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Memphis Daily News
Providing Hope Through Service
August 24, 2017
By Dr. Mary C. McDonald

The French philosopher and Jesuit priest Teilhard de Chardin once said, “The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.” While I agree it’s a responsibility we all share to provide the inspiration and reasons to hope to those in succeeding generations, after decades educating generations of young people, I am ever mindful that often it is they who inspire and give us hope. My hope for the future comes from them. They are laying the foundation now.

For most teens, summer means vacation, summer jobs, summer school, doing nothing, or trying to fit in everything. For an increasing number of teens, summer also means service learning experiences and mission trips.

These experiences have become a tipping point for forging future leaders who become sensitized to economic, racial, cultural, religious, age and gender diversity, as well as becoming better informed about the community and learning how to strengthen it, both locally and nationally. What the students learn in school is enhanced by their real-world experiences of being a productive member of the community who gives back and lifts others.

This summer, my granddaughter, Molly McDonald, a senior at St. Benedict High School, went on a mission trip with her youth group from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. The trip was sponsored by the Catholic Heart Work Camps. There are many organizations, schools and churches that offer these experiences for young people, all with a common theme of engaging this next generation to be conduits of that hope the world so desperately needs. The more empowered they are in making the future better for others, the more hopeful I am about the future for all of us.

The trip was no vacation. The group spent a week working in blighted, depressed areas of the inner city, engaging in manual labor and building interpersonal connections, one person at a time. During the long days, they built ramps for accessibility at several houses; staffed an inner-city lunch program; held activities for children; cleared litter from vacant lots; tended an urban garden; spent time in a senior citizen center providing activities and a loving presence; and assisted in home projects such as painting, cleaning and repairing. In the evenings, they discussed what they had learned, and, as a result, bonded as a group in their service to others.

As they continue with their education and pursue their careers, they will, through experiences like this work camp, have an edge in assessing not only their career path but also their “life purpose” as it relates to making the community better for all citizens. Experiences like these increase the awareness of the collective well-being of our society and lay the groundwork for a personal path to action.

From my experience, I have seen that young people with experiences in service learn to make positive contributions to their places of employment, are natural leaders who are committed to making a positive difference and leave a place better than they found it. They also give us hope for the future.

Contact Dr. Mary C. McDonald, a national education consultant, at 574-2956 or visit

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