Notre Dame Program Funds Summer of Service

Kate Thel and Abby Kiernan in the Lazarus House Soup Kitchen

Abby Kiernan and Kate Thel came to Lazarus House this summer worried about how they would navigate being with people in poverty.  Both were uneasy and expected to be uncomfortable, but then they met our Guests.

“We came in wanting to learn how to interact with people in poverty.  We learned it is no different than interacting with anyone else” Kiernan said.  “It is no different talking to someone at a soup kitchen than talking to someone at a restaurant.”

Kiernan and Thel, rising Notre Dame Sophomores, came to Lazarus House through the university’s Summer Service Learning Program, funded locally by the alumni of the Notre Dame Club of Boston.

“It has tremendous impact on them,” said Ted Gorrie, a member of its board, who believes students coming face-to-face with marginalized populations gain a new perspective on their own lives.

“I really have been very fortunate my whole life,” agreed Thel, who grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn.  “I have lived a privileged life going to private schools.  But I have always been aware of the inequalities in American society, knowing there’s a wide population of people who do not have the same opportunities I do.”

There are less demanding service programs than Lazarus House, but both women said their faith drew them to the challenging work done here.

“It struck me that I didn’t know more about homelessness and I needed to learn.  I felt like it was God calling me,” said Kiernan, who grew up in an affluent Alabama community and knew the difficulty of working outside her comfort zone.

Abby Kiernan and Kate Thel with members of the Lazarus House Kitchen Staff

It was the daily interactions and connections with Guests at the soup kitchen and food pantry that taught the life lesson that people are not defined by a single word that may describe their current circumstance.

They were struck by what resonates with so many visitors to the ministry:  More than anything else, Lazarus House is devoted to restoring dignity and self-respect.

“It changed how I see and talk about people in poverty,” said Kiernan, who now stops and talks to the homeless on the street, even if she has no money to give.

“Every person is equal and should be treated that way. Interacting with the homeless or people of different backgrounds is no different than any other interaction I have had whole my life,” added Thel, who now treasures a Notre Dame hat worn by a soup kitchen Guest

“I told him I went to Notre Dame and he offered it to me,” she said.  “He said, ‘Wash it and keep it.’  I have it at school and it reminds me that everyone has the ability and the desire to also help others.”

The students receive a small stipend and scholarship for their work.

Kate Thel with Miguel Cruz, George Hermmann, Marcy Furse & Jeff Hassel of Lazarus House.

“It allows a student who might feel pressure to get a paid internship to immerse themselves in community service without a penalty,” said Gorrie, adding that the Notre Dame alumni also provide free housing, gas and food money to the students.

While the summer of service made an important contribution to the work of providing food and care to those in need, Gorrie believes the students get back so much more than they put into it.

“What I will continually read in their reflections is that Lazarus House is the most memorable experience of their four years at Notre Dame,” he said.  “They grow so much as an individual and they have more capacity than they thought.”

“I came to see Lazarus House as a place where miracles happen,” Kiernan said. “I know I was supposed to be there.”