It’s rare to get to do volunteer work while also having time to reflect with others on what it all means. But that’s exactly what the Lilly Summer Fellows program participants get to do each summer.
The fellows live together for three months in a Macalester-owned house, each receiving a stipend to pursue their own community-based project in line with their vocations. Twice weekly they share dinner and discuss their experiences, reflecting on and examining their commitments and experiences. They work with Lilly Project program associate Eily Marlow and chaplain KP Hong.
Last year there were eight fellows who worked at places as varied as University Bank and Westminster Presbyterian Church. The stories of two of those fellows follow.
Terence Steinberg ’11 lived near the Lilly fellows house his first summer in St. Paul and was immediately intrigued by the program. Last summer as a fellow himself he drew on his minors in environmental science and creative writing while working on the Mother of Water Project with the arts program COMPAS.
The Mother of Waters Project is a program COMPAS hopes to run this summer, in which underprivileged teens would be paid to explore Minnesota’s waterways, learning what factors are enhancing and threatening the state’s rivers. They would then write a book about their findings, published by Milkweed. Last summer Steinberg laid the groundwork for the project, meeting potential partners from farmers to water treatment plants, and writing a guidebook for participants.
Anyone who does the Lilly summer program will find it one of the most formative experiences of their college years.
“It was great to do an internship that also gave me time to reflect on the experience with others,” he says. Although his project still awaits funding, Steinberg has already gained a lot from his experience. “I became much better acquainted with Minnesota and its issues,” he says.
And Steinberg—who moved often during his childhood and spent the last two years before college attending a United World College in Duino, Italy (he’s a UWC Davis scholar)—really enjoyed the intentional community aspect of the Lilly Summer Fellowship. Indeed, he liked it so much that he is spending his senior year living in another such community, this one called the Stone Soup Collective, in Minneapolis.
Steinberg found the group’s weekly dinners with supervisors of the various volunteer programs especially meaningful. “To hear their stories and paths, their triumphs and defeats, was touching and really taught us a lot,” he says. Having the group there to keep each member accountable and on track was also helpful, he says.
With the summer behind him and graduation looming, Steinberg imagines himself becoming a teacher or a coach (he’s a triathlete), but is also considering firefighting. “When I first got to campus I wanted to develop luxury real estate,” laughs the economics major. “Anyone who does the Lilly summer program will find it one of the most formative experiences of their college years. You really get to know yourself and who and what your values are.”
Having both grandmothers die within two years inspired David Schmoeller ’11 to work at the Allina Hospice for his Lilly fellowship job. “I was struck by how lonely and isolated they were and wondered how we could do death better as a culture,” he says. “I wanted to explore existential questions like, What does it mean to live and die?”
His internship had religious studies major working as a visitor of the dying, sitting and talking for hours at a time, taking them for drives, playing games. He also worked with bereavement counselors to update literature about the hospice program that is given to families. But mostly he spent his days “just being with the patients and hearing their stories,” he says. “Everyone’s life is so full and at the end most are ready to share.”
As the summer progressed, says Schmoeller, his questions became less philosophical and more down to earth: How can I help this person at this time?
One of things he gained from the summer was confirmation that his interest in clinical psychology remained a good career fit. Like Steinberg, he found the group living part of the program truly helpful. “I’d lived in communes before, but this one was special because it focused on being reflective about ourselves and our lives. There was such a feeling of really caring about each other our projects.”