For area college students, a day of service

Author: Erin Blasko, South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Leaning on a walker outside her home on the city's near northeast side, Shirley Guerden had nothing but praise for the college students raking leaves in her front yard.

"Ooh, I don't know what I would do without them," the 84-year-old, whose home on Woodcrest Drive, just off Twyckenham Drive, is surrounded by dozens of mature trees, said Saturday.

A retired social worker, Guerden, who has lived on Woodcrest since the 1960s, used to rake the leaves herself, she said. But because of her age and health, she's no longer able to do it. Her husband, a former school principal, died about 10 years ago.

"I used to come out every year and do it," she recalled before making her way slowly down the front walk and to her car, parked on the sloping driveway. "I'm going to the store, that's all," she said.

As many as 100 University of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's College students, and possibly more, turned out Saturday for the 10th annual "Turning Over a New Leaf" event in the Near Northeast Neighborhood, just south of the university.

The event, hosted by Robinson Community Learning Center in partnership with Circle K of Notre Dame and Saint Mary's, offered students the opportunity to serve the community by raking leaves for people who could not do it themselves.

Most of those people were senior citizens, Marguerite Taylor, the community center's associate program director for adult programs, said. But some were parents, too. The only stipulation? "You cannot have a 16-year-old sitting on your sofa," Taylor said.

Taylor said students raked leaves at 42 homes Saturday. The homes were in the area bounded by Angela Boulevard to the north, Twyckenham Drive to the east, Colfax Avenue to the south, and Hill Street to the west.

The day started out at the community center, where the students were served breakfast and handed rakes courtesy of RebuildingTogether, a local not-for-profit organization that
rehabilitates the homes of low-income homeowners.

For one volunteer, the opportunity to rake leaves Saturday was a first. "I've never raked before in my life," Minelik Sisay, 19, of Mesa, Ariz., said. "But it's been good," the freshman at Notre Dame said. "I'm enjoying it here in South Bend, and I love Notre Dame." With school work, Sisay said, he hadn't had much time to get out into the community so far. So when he heard about "Turning Over a new leaf," he immediately signed up. It was a common refrain among the volunteers.

"I haven't had a whole lot of opportunity with school going on to get out into the community," 18-year-old Johanna Blake, a freshman at Notre Dame, said while raking leaves in Guerden's front yard. "I thought this would be a great way to get off campus and do something worthwhile. She said she enjoyed the opportunity to meet and interact with people outside of campus, too.

"Obviously, we live in a larger community," the Cincinnati native said, "and we depend on them and they depend on us."

The weather probably helped. It was cool Saturday morning, but the sun was out. A picture-perfect fall day. "It's good weather," Christopher Barnes, 19, of Royal Oak, Mich., confirmed. The Notre Dame sophomore then paused to look around at all of the leaves on the ground. "It looks like we've got a lot of work ahead of us," he said, "but it's nothing we can't manage together."

Indiana University South Bend students also volunteered Saturday as part of Make a Difference Day. Students volunteered at the Center for the Homeless, Habitat for Humanity, St. Vincent de Paul and the Ronald McDonald Family Room at Memorial Hospital of South Bend.