Saturday, February 27, 1999

Students feed their minds this weekend

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        About now, Sandi Wurzelbacher is fondly remembering her regular Saturday morning chocolate doughnuts. Nikki Harbaur is dreaming of the bagels she eats in multiples every day.

        Twenty hours into a fast, ordinary foods can sound mighty appealing. But until 7 tonight, the only thing the two Ursuline Academy students are getting a taste of is hunger.

        They are taking part in the 30 Hour Famine, an international volunteer effort to raise awareness of world hunger, and money to combat it.

        The fast started Friday at 1 p.m. Last night, the two girls; more than 30 of their Ursuline classmates; and students from St. Rita School for the Deaf, Xavier University and St. John Neuman Center prayed and planned while camping out at Ursuline, in Blue Ash. Today they will repair homes in Over-The-Rhine, clean up schools in the West End and Madisonville, visit the elderly and sort and box goods for the poor.

        For teen-agers, that kind of hard labor generally calls for pizza and Snickers bars. All these kids get is juice.

        It's not that any of the students claims they'll experience serious hunger. They rest assured knowing that, tonight, they'll plow into one big feed. But they are engaging in two practices that few of us undertake anymore, and greatly to our detriment.

        Sacrifice and service.

Finding time to care
        Sacrifice is admittedly low on most teen-agers' lists of priorities. Even at Ursuline, a school more dedicated to moral reflection than most, doing without and giving up are rare experiences.

        “The more I see of people having less than I have, the more I realize how spoiled I really am,” says sophomore Paula Pant, who has seen intense poverty on trips to Nepal. “There are lots of things that aren't really necessary, but I've always had them so I feel I really do need them. I see how much other people have always done without.”

        To relate to those in need, the students are giving up food, and perhaps more sacrificially, time.

        “The most difficult thing for me is scheduling my weekend to take 30 hours out of it,” says Kate Mesch, as classmates nod knowingly. Most Ursuline students carry daily planners as tightly filled as those of their parents. Many add sports, clubs and jobs to a day of rigorous academics. Some get to sleep at 2 a.m.

        A weekend, in short, is a lot to give up.

Doing good to feel good
        And while for some participants the famine is a one-time sacrifice, it is for others part of an amazing pattern of service. Little more than halfway through their school year, some Ursuline students have given more than 100 hours of community service. Every week, girls work with children at the West End YMCA, make lunches for the elderly, serve food at the Drop-Inn Center, sponsor poor children.

        That's all the more remarkable because Ursuline Academy has no mandatory service requirement.

        The trick, says community service coordinator Todd Forman, is making sure the girls see service as an end in itself, a moral privilege and obligation.

        “Colleges are looking for service right now,” he says. “It's very prominent in interviews. They're looking for depth, somebody's who's a leader, who's not glossed over 50 or 60 activities but taken two or three and done something worthwhile.”

        But Mr. Forman says Ursuline wants girls who will serve to fill a need, not a resume.

        Sophomore Hilary Wilson has clearly gotten the message. As part of a school project, she spent her Christmas break chopping wood, feeding animals and hammering down flooring for a needy family in Liberty, Ky. She is spending this weekend fasting for the 30 Hour Famine, in hopes the money she raises through sponsorships will feed hungry people.

        “In small ways, when we do little things for other people, we are rewarded,” she says quietly. “I just know that the more service I do, the better I feel.”

        Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at The Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati 45202.

        Krista Ramsey's column appears on Saturdays. Write her at the Enquirer, 312 Elm St. Cincinnati 45202.