Some families go to Disney World. Some families visit Europe. And some donate one week of their summer to return to Notre Dame and give back to the South Bend community.
During Family Volunteer Camp, Notre Dame alumni and their families live in dorms, revisit old haunts and do service work around town.
“The love for this place extends beyond the Notre Dame bubble and spreads to the South Bend community,” says Annie Envall ’05, the service programs director for the alumni association. “That’s what Family Volunteer Camp is all about.”
The camp started 17 years ago with a small group of alumni, their families and friends. Now, about 90 families make the journey to Notre Dame, taking one-week shifts in the three-week program, volunteering with 21 different organizations. Space in the program is limited and highly competitive.
In 2015, Envall says, “We had over 400 applications to the program. We’ve begun a lottery system to pick the families each year. It’s a truly random system.”
Many of those applications are from returning families. Envall says about half of last summer’s participants were veterans of the program.
“Some families have been coming for six or seven years,” she says. “A couple of families will have three generations do the camp.”
The camp costs $430 per person, which covers all meals, snacks, housing and extra activities. Some of the money also goes to buy supplies needed for the service work.
The families will do four to six hours of service a day, working at any number of places, from Hannah’s House to the Center for the Homeless to the Food Bank of Northern Indiana. Families are split into small groups, led by Notre Dame student leaders or alumni association staff members. The groups visit a new site every day.
“There are enough families and sites that they’ll be shuffled around throughout the week,” Envall says. “This exposes them to a bunch of the community partners and allows them to meet different families.”
During off-hours, campers have access to the Rockne Memorial pool, St. Joseph’s beach and South Dining Hall. The camp also provides daily activities such as ice skating, bowling and lectures from professors.
Christen Hall, whose son is a sophomore in Fisher Hall, brought her family to the camp for the first time two years ago. Her husband, John ’77, had read about the camp in an alumni email.
“We had always done works in our community, but we wanted to show our son that there is another side of life,” the South Carolina resident says. “And when we came here, there was just this glow of giving to others in him. We got to see that happen.”
Christen returned this past summer with her 16-year-old daughter for another week of service. “My son goes out of his way now to help others. Family Volunteer Camp really changed him, and I couldn’t wait to see that happen with my daughter.”
Colorado residents Shannon Shine ’88 and her husband, David ’86, have participated in Family Volunteer Camp the past two years with their 15-year-old twins.
“You have technology at home, and everyone’s busy and distracted,” she says. “Here, you have the mind, body and spirit growing together as a family.”
The camp is also a useful resource for the South Bend community. On their first day of camp, Shine and her family worked at the St. Vincent de Paul Society along with several other families. In their five hours, she says, the volunteers sorted through 9,600 pounds of clothes.
“And the next day’s volunteers will sort through even more,” Envall says. “Notre Dame grads are very competitive.”
Even the student leaders are excited to be a part of the camp. Junior Justin Knobloch says he felt lucky to be selected to work at the camp. Chris Gattis ’11 joined the camp because it paired well with his studies in the Master of Divinity program.
“As an undergrad, I didn’t take advantage of service opportunities in South Bend, and I didn’t have a concept of the sheer number of service agencies here,” Gattis says. “Working in this program has been enlightening. I see South Bend in a much different light than I did as an undergrad.”
And at the end of their week-long experience, the students, alumni and families just want more. “We knew we were going to have fun, but we didn’t know how much fun,” Shine says of her first experience with the camp. “Your heart just overflows. At the end of it, we just said, ‘We have to do this again.’”
Christina Payne was this magazine’s summer 2016 editorial assistant.