SU SPLASH: The Ripple Effect of Service
Each summer, Susquehanna welcomes 20 rising first-year students to campus for a life-changing service learning event: SU SPLASH, or Students Promoting Leadership and Awareness in Serving the Homeless.
“SPLASH is meant to benefit students by allowing them to get to know 19 other freshmen before school is even in session,” says University Chaplain Mark Wm. Radecke, who created the program in 2005 with former Director of First Year Programs David Satterlee. Made possible by a $50,000 grant from Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, the program “also launches them into college life by combining volunteer service with intentional academic reflection,” Radecke says.
The experience begins with two days of orientation and group-building exercises with four upperclass mentors and three staff advisors. The students are also educated about homelessness by Susquehanna sociology professors. The first destination of the week is Haven Ministries, a nonprofit shelter in Sunbury, Pa., that provides food, referral help and life skills education to people experiencing homelessness in the central Susquehanna Valley.
After serving close to home for two days, the submersion into urban homelessness begins as the group boards a bus to Washington, D.C., for what Coordinator for Civic Engagement Mandy Nagy ’08 calls “an eye-opening experience.”
SPLASH members stay at the Washington Seminar Center and spend the remainder of the week working at agencies that serve and advocate for the homeless population. In addition, they read assigned articles and lessons on homelessness, record their thoughts in journals, and collectively reflect on each day’s events. Those events include volunteering at the Center for Creative Nonviolence, the largest homeless shelter in the United States with 1,350 beds. SPLASH members also visit a transitional shelter in St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and hear the stories of men living there, thanks to the cooperation of the Rev. Meredith Lovell ’02, associate pastor of the parish.
Another important experience is called Bread for the Journey. “This is perhaps the most challenging experience of the trip,” says Radecke. Students fill brown paper bags with lunch items or toiletry items and walk throughout the District approaching people experiencing homelessness, and offer them the bags and some friendly conversation. Gratitude for the gift and relief at being approached and spoken to like a “normal person” flows toward the students. Too often these people feel as if they become invisible, says Nagy.
“After coming face-to-face with some of these people and hearing their stories, the students realize that the stereotypes of homelessness can be completely squashed,” says Nagy. “The typical assumption is that homeless folk are drug addicts or alcoholics who refuse to put forth the effort to get a job, but it could not be further from the truth in some cases.”
That lesson and others absorbed by the 20 incoming students are important and long-lasting, just like the bonds they form with each other through SPLASH. “The friendships formed during the week have impressive durability,” says Radecke, who has seen reunited members entering together at convocation in the fall or eating as a group in the cafeteria.
“SPLASH is a chance for students to do something meaningful and to contemplate deeply the ripples created by that action,” says Radecke.
Contributing writers to the People & Places section are Stephanie Beazley ’10, Jenny Ruth Hawbaker ’04 and Julie Buckingham ’09.