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Monday, March 4, 2024
The Observer

A service we can't see

I won’t be the first to say it. College life, kinda sucks. 

Or at least now it does. Friends can’t go in our rooms, classes have gone back to 2nd grade assigned seating and weekend parties (technically) aren’t allowed. What was supposed to be our once in a lifetime chance to experience a new world of independence and self-discovery has instead turned into a world where much of both must occur within the confines of a 130-square-foot dorm room. No matter how catchy of a slogan our school tries to market it under, HERE we find countless disappointments.

But I also won’t be the first to say we are not alone in these changing times.

I think about those we’ve seen on social media recently who have told their stories. Mario Martinez is a hospitality worker in the South Bend hotel industry, who despite years of struggle to finally feel comfortable, saw all of that security ripped away over a weekend. As cases rose, hotel attendees fell, and now he faces the decision of cutting his hours or waiting to be unemployed. Mr. Martinez is just one heartbreaking example of what many people living right next to us are going through. 

Retelling a story like this is not meant to diminish the hardships our community faces right now. Many of us have been affected greatly by this pandemic, with our loved ones getting sick and our families being forced to take off work in an economy where it is seemingly needed most. Rather, I tell this to remind each of us that a whole other community, only blocks out of sight, is hurting too.

As I’ve been seeing friends again for the first time in months, the idea of service seems far from any one’s plans or thoughts. And when it is discussed, it’s almost always with a lens of pessimism. The general atmosphere seems to hint that most of us, being so preoccupied with our own issues, are forgetting those of the community around us. I spoke with David Lassen, the Director of the Center for Social Concern’s Community-Engaged Learning Program, on the phone, and he voiced similar concerns. He predicts that if ‘students are not aware of existing opportunities,’ there could be a decline in local volunteering. (Editor's Note: An earlier version of this column misstated David Lassen's thoughts on student service during the pandemic, and has since been updated. The Observer regrets this error.)

However, these services aren’t just faced with dwindling volunteers, but also a community that needs them now more than ever. With the pandemic sweeping across the Midwest, South Bend is just one of the countless cities that has seen its non-profit spending slashed across the board, forcing services to get cut and staffers to get furloughed. Meanwhile, funding for much-needed repairs are having to be halted across the city, and development projects in key high-risk areas are being swept under the rug. For a place whose general population still struggles with the 5th worst vacancy problem in the country, and higher poverty rates than the national average, such a pandemic cannot be dealt with alone. Because for many people beyond Notre Dame Avenue, this pandemic is much more than a string of missed opportunities. It is a blockade to a decent life. 

Thankfully, even from behind masks and six feet apart, there are a number of ways to keep South Bend at heart. Though many volunteering sites have had to slow down and change the ways they approach service, there are also many new distanced or completely virtual ways to continue serving our community. I have tried my best to start the list of resources we can explore, and included a brief description of each below. However, these by no means exhaustive. 

At Notre Dame, we pride ourselves on being one of the leading universities in the world for outreach. We’ve received several “most engaged” accolades from places likeU.S. News & World Report, and with a history rooted in Catholic Social Tradition, the title seems to fit. However, none of that matters if when people need us most, we can’t be there because of a change in circumstance. If Notre Dame really is the school of service we pride ourselves to be, then this unprecedented time of take-out dinners and COVID-19 tests shouldn’t reveal the limitations to the good we can do. If anything, this period is a test for all of us to be there for people when it counts.

For a list of virtual opportunities, you can use the website, or check out over 100 community partners compiled by Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns here. More opportunities to volunteer can be found on the South Bend Government’s website, under the heading “COVID-19 Resources & Support.” 

Edward Brunicardi is a sophomore at Notre Dame pursuing a major in Political Science and a minor with the Hesburgh Program of Public Service. Though he may have had all the creativity sucked out of him in high school, writing serves as Edward's best chance at getting something back. He can be reached at or @EdwardBrunicar1 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.