This school year, two Mercyhurst students are living and volunteering at the House of Mercy, a sponsored ministry of the Sisters of Mercy.
Sarah Anderson, a senior religious studies major, and Michelle Ahrens, a junior religious studies and social work double major, are the first students to take part in this opportunity to serve the Erie community.
The House, which is located on Woodlawn Avenue and opened in 2002, serves as a place of hospitality for children and adults in the neighborhood where it is located, providing activities and advocacy.
Anderson and Ahrens’ will assist the after school program two nights each week. The after school program serves elementary, middle and high school students by providing homework assistance and other fun and educational activities. The first week the program started, there were eight to 10 elementary students and at least 20 middle school students in attendance. No high school students attended. Sister Michele Schroeck, who lives in the House, and Elisha Helgen, an AmeriCorps Vista who volunteers there, run the programs on the alternating evenings.
“Homework help is in the afternoons from four to five, and after dinner activities are from six to eight,” Aherns said.. Activities include things such as games, environmental education, help with job or college applications for the older students, and occasionally field trips.
Children’s programming is not all the House of Mercy provides. They also have adult programs and perform charitable work within the Erie community. For example, there will be a Thanksgiving dinner distribution in which families can receive free turkeys and other food items that they will be able to take home and cook for themselves. Various other projects are based around community or individual need, according to Ahrens.
Although not all, the majority of the families served are former refugees, from an arry of countries such as Nepal/Bhutan, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Central African Republic, Bosnia and Syria.
Mercyhurst’s Sisters of Mercy had the idea to host live-in students. They asked the Service Learning staff to spread the word and provided them with applications for any interested students.
Ahrens had done volunteer work at the House of Mercy the previous summer, so she was familiar with the duties and comfortable making it her new home for the year. Anderson was presented with the opportunity by Colin Hurley, Director of Service Learning, and Greg Baker, Director of Campus Ministry, and thought it would be a good idea because she enjoys volunteering. She also liked that it is cheaper than some other housing options, at $300 per month, which covers food costs and utilities.
This live-in model of service is the first of its kind for the House of Mercy and the Mercyhurst community. Bethany Brun, Coordinator of Service Learning, said she would love to see other students engage in this type of model.
“Not every organization has the capacity to do that in terms of living corridors. But I think that’s the sort of student service model we don’t have at Mercyhurst yet, you know, living quarters for students who are involved in service, said Brun. “I think that’s the next best thing. It would be really exciting to see.”
It would also be a way that Mercyhurst could encourage service within the Erie community, Brun added.
“Offering the opportunity to live at the place you volunteer is one more way the we can again continue to build that link between campus and community and get into the hearts of peoples’ lives we are trying to service. It gives you first hand knowledge for sure,” Brun said.
So far no plans are being made for such models, according to Brun, but it is something that could potentially happen in the future.
Although the House of Mercy is not directly associated with Mercyhurst University or Residence Life, having students live there is an opportunity that the Sisters of Mercy would like to see continue. “We would like to do it. So far it’s going really well. We hope that it will continue in the future,” Sister Michele said.