Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Newman Center helps college students share Catholic faith

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College is a time of change and transformation. It is also a time when many students rediscover and deepen their faith. Pam Putnam came to the University of Pennsylvania from Crescent City, Nevada. She found herself stressed and at times overwhelmed by the pressures of college life.

“I had a pretty difficult semester. It felt like things were out of whack for me,” Putnam said.

Then, during the fall of her junior year, she made a retreat with the Penn Newman Center. That retreat marked a turning point for Putnam, “That retreat made a huge difference. It brought that spirituality back into my life that I’d been missing. It transformed my college experience.”

For students dealing with the trials of the university experience, the Newman Center can be a safe harbor. The Penn Newman Center, directed by Fr. James McGuinn and Jeff Klein, offers weekly events to bring a community together.

Putnam remembers, “We’d have weekly ‘Dollar Dinners’ and just come together with people in the same place. To be able to meet with other students who have that faith in common with you was a really valuable experience.”

During her senior year, Putnam sought out something that could act as an extension of her time at the Newman Center. Since high school she had wanted to take a year off to do service and Jeff Klein pointed her to the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC).

The Jesuit Volunteer Corps is an organization of lay volunteers who live in small communities across the country and internationally. The Jesuit Volunteers, JVs as they’re called, work with the poor and marginalized in their community.

Putnam was accepted into the JVC and placed with the St. Joseph the Worker program in Phoenix, Arizona. There she works with the homeless to disadvantaged, helping them find work. “We provide access to computers with internet, mock interviews, transportation assistance, and clothing. A lot of our clients are homeless so they have no way to present themselves to employers.”

Her work has made her more aware of God’s presence in everyday life, Putnam says. “Our clients are very faith filled people. They turn to God everyday. They rely on God to get by.”

A hallmark of Jesuit teaching is seeing God in all things. Putnam relates how an experience at St. Joseph the Worker brought that idea into her life: “We have a sign in sheet at the front desk. One day I was working at the desk and I noticed a client had signed in simply as Jesús. And I’m looking at this and I realize, well really, Jesus is in all of these clients.”

“My job challenges me to treat everyone who walks through the door as Jesus. To try to see God in everyone.”

The JVC experience has been incredibly rewarding for Putnam and the political science major is considering coming back to Philadelphia to do social work. She encourages every college student to do service, “You should see what the world is like. I’ve met people who I never would have met if I hadn’t taken that leap of faith.”

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