Student volunteers find ways to give back
St. John’s College, Santa Fe, students interested in volunteering in the local community coordinate their activities through Project Politae, an umbrella organization for service work supervised by Matt Johnston (SF98), director of Residential Life, and primarily run by students.
During the 2012–2013 academic year, students volunteered their time with several local organizations including St. Elizabeth’s Shelter, where they helped with general cleaning and maintenance as well as sorting and organizing donations; the Santa Fe Animal Shelter, where they socialized cats and dogs for adoption among other duties; and Monte del Sol Charter High School, where they tutored students in mathematics. Johnnies also worked with young people at Piñon Elementary School and the Santa Fe Children’s Museum, built homes with Habitat for Humanity, and prepared meals for the homeless through Santa Fe Community Services. Johnston saw the Santa Fe Community Services project as particularly successful because it provided several ways to give: students solicited food donations from staff and tutors, assembled the donations into bag-lunches, and then took them to the Interfaith Community Shelter in the mornings to distribute to shelter clients leaving for the day.
Another project Johnston is excited about is the annual fall service project performed during orientation. Typically, this project has involved on-campus service, but in 2012 the project connected St. John’s to the city of Santa Fe and to regional ecological conservation efforts. Students performed invasive species abatement and trash cleanup in the arroyo that crosses college land—in the process clearing a path from the new Winiarski Residential Center to the Student Activities Center. This project will be an ongoing effort inspired by the observations and recommendations of local architect/landscape architect Beverley Spears.
Johnston, who grew up volunteering, says that Johnnies are driven to service activities for a variety of reasons, including faith traditions, humanitarianism, social interaction, and a way to connect a concrete activity to the cerebral nature of the St. John’s classroom.
“It’s my opinion that service is something St. John’s does fundamentally, that the foundation of service lies in being respectful of other people and looking to your neighbor, as we do in seminar,” Johnston says. “Our scholarship is grounded in citizenship. Every time you contribute in class, you are contributing to a collective enterprise. It’s not enough to write your papers and be smart—you have to be aware of and respond to others. I don’t think many of our students perform service for résumé-building, even if it ultimately helps them in that area. It just doesn’t seem to be what they’re after, which I think is sweet and Johnnie-like.”