One event that I look forward to every year at Mount St. Joseph University is the annual Welcome Week service day, which is held on the Saturday at the end of the first week of the fall semester.

MSJ students pulling weeds on day of service.

Students, faculty and staff are invited to give up part of their Saturday to volunteer at a service site in the Cincinnati area.

The Welcome Week service day is significant because it reminds participants of the value of hard work and giving back with their time and resources to a cause outside of themselves. It also provides the opportunity for students, faculty and staff to connect with each other through a shared goal of leaving the service site in better condition than when they found it.

When I arrived at Mount St. Joseph University on the morning of Aug. 27, I was greeted by other friendly volunteers where I was given a t-shirt and my name tag, along with being able to pick up some complimentary snacks and water before I headed out to my service site for the day.

 Before we were dismissed to our service sites, there was a group prayer offered and a picture taken of all the volunteers. The service site that I was assigned to was EarthConnection, which was conveniently only a short walk away from campus, located near Schueler Field and the outdoor track.

Once all the volunteers who were assigned to EarthConnection  gathered there, we met with some of the women in charge of the service site. They discussed how the site was founded by Sister of Charity Paula Gonzalez, SC, who was a biologist, lecturer, and author. She designed EarthConnection, a ministry of the Sisters of Charity, to be a place that could help address the ways in which climate change is having a negative impact on our environment.

They explained how EarthConnection is meant to show how all of creation is interconnected. Sister Winnie Brubach described how EarthConnection promotes programs in sustainable agriculture, alternative energies, ecojustice, and eco-spirituality, and one feature of its building is that it has solar electricity.

Afterwards, we were split up into two groups. One group was to remove the weeds from the front of the EarthConnection, and the second group, which I was in, was to remove the weeds from the back garden. We grabbed our buckets and gloves and set out to work immediately.

One of my favorite aspects of volunteering at EarthConnection for the Welcome Week service day was being able to disconnect from my devices and reconnect with nature. Our phones can be so intrusive, social media and notifications calling for our attention constantly.

Unplugging for a bit and focusing on the task at hand was like a breath of fresh air. I was able to enjoy the sunshine, the physical labor of weeding, and the company of those around me with no distractions.

There is something rewarding in knowing that pulling out pesky weeds is making the Earth a better place, even if it is just a small gesture. Often, it is the small gestures that can carry the most significance. The Sisters of Charity in charge of the service site were very thankful for our help.

At the end of the service day, I left feeling tired but fulfilled, my hands were dirty, but my heart was filled with gratitude that I was able to give up a small part of my day and utilize it for the benefit of nature.