Mix volunteering and food, and the combination peaked Kayla Riordan’s interest “higher than Mount Mansfield.”

The junior environmental science major at St. Michael’s College in Colchester is part of Cook N Food, a program that feeds residents of Dismas House and Anew Place.

“Volunteerism has been a significant part of my identity for as long as I can remember. I enjoy helping people, and I think there is something so special about spreading kindness, love and support purely for the sake of making the world a happier, better place,” said Riordan, of Ludlow, Massachusetts. “Besides volunteering, food is hands-down one of my favorite things.”

Cook N Food is one of the volunteer programs of the St. Michael’s College Mobilization of Volunteer Efforts — MOVE — office. The community service program has three major programmatic areas including local weekly volunteer opportunities, a service trip program offering week-long service trips each year and a newsletter/listserve offering one-time opportunities to volunteer in the broader community (not MOVE sponsored regular programs).

During the last three years, MOVE has engaged an average of 360 unique volunteers who provided more than 20,000 hours of service.

MOVE focuses on service, justice, spirituality and leadership. “We work with students to guide their growth and development as whole people by encouraging and facilitating dialogue about, action in and reflection of these focal points,” explained Lara Scott, MOVE director. “MOVE models for students what faith in action is all about and encourages their participation.”

Among its programs are Cause for Paws, Civil Rights Alliance, Cook N Food, COTS, FEED, Outdoor Volunteer Efforts, Special Events and SMC Mentoring.

Anna Beach, a junior environmental studies and political science double major from Barre, began volunteering with Outdoor Volunteer Efforts as a first-year student when a friend mentioned that he went to the school farm every Friday to weed, harvest and help with other tasks. “Early on, it was instinctive for me to be involved and get my hands in the soil because I need to be outside, to interact with place,” she said.

What she likes most about the outdoor program is carving out time to be outside and getting to know new volunteers: “Both are extremely refreshing during a hectic semester, especially as it’s not as easy to spend time with friends given the stress on limited exposure [during the pandemic]. Paying attention to how the seasons change, how the frost moves in, how the beds at the farm respond — it all makes time seem to slow down.”

The MOVE moto is Head, Heart, Hands, and “we do a tremendous job offering students the opportunity to engage their head, heart and hands in justice through service,” Scott said.

MOVE offers opportunities for students to practice theoretical frameworks presented in many classes at the college and, for many, enhances their formal academic learning.

“MOVE gives students a firsthand experience with the interconnectedness of people and experiences. We offer students space to practice compassion, awareness building, presence, social change, self-reflection, sitting in discomfort as they learn about/witness/experience injustice, vulnerability, relationship building and the list goes on,” Scott said. “I believe, in part because of students expressing their experiences with MOVE to me, that MOVE enhances student’s education in remarkable ways.”

Edward Rankin, a senior computer science and math major from Richmond, volunteers with special events such as blood drives, Penguin Plunge and Serve-a-thon. “I often find that school feels like a rat race. I know that in the end my education will have a profound impact on my life, but in the day to day of doing assignments and taking exams it just feels like a grind,” he said. “Volunteering through MOVE provides me an opportunity to do work I know is meaningful. It gives me a sense of purpose that I often cannot find through my schoolwork.”

Volunteering also helps him become more aware of the challenges his community faces.

“Service to others, dignity of all, solidarity and care for God’s creation are foundational to Catholicism and outlined beautifully through Catholic Social Teaching,” Scott said. “With these elements of connection, love, lifting each other up and being in service to one another, it only makes sense that a Catholic college have robust community service opportunities for students, whether they identify as Catholic or not, to have the opportunity to live faith in action.”

Just a few things that are clear to her and yet “only the tip of the iceberg” as she reflects on the deep impact community service and volunteering have had on her life are: her perspective has broadened, awareness has grown, understanding of lived experience and privilege have been honed, relationships have deepened, willingness and ability to speak and act for what she believes in has enhanced, connection to her spirituality and faith has developed and connection to herself and values has strengthened.

“Through community service, I’ve had opportunities to travel, lead, connect, network. I am incredibly grateful for the opportunities I’ve had because of my commitment to service,” said Scott, who volunteered as a student at Trinity College in Burlington and Keene (New Hampshire) State College.

“There is always more we can do, whether it is volunteering our time or making a donation to an organization we believe in,” Rankin said.

—Originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.