Letters of Inspiration
Ursula Thomas Miller
Nobody writes letters anymore, right? It’s an email or cell phone call or posting on Twitter. Heck, people don’t even scribble personal messages on Christmas cards anymore.
Perhaps, then, that’s why the letters the students of the Summer Service Internship Program receive are so special. They’re personal. They’re thankful. They’re unexpected. And they’re from John Pepper, the former chairman and CEO of Procter & Gamble. Letters from one of the most powerful business leaders in the world don’t just arrive in the mailbox every day. At least not for most people. But for the interns, they’re one of the surprising benefits of the program.
Pepper has been writing the letters since coming up with the idea for the intern program and helping it get off the ground in 1995. He’s remained closely connected to the program over the years, consistently providing it financial support. Students in the program work directly for nonprofit community service organizations in Cincinnati. The goal is to raise awareness of those less fortunate while fostering among students a lifelong commitment to social justice and the betterment of society.
“It was a genius idea at the time,” says Gene Beaupré, the program’s first director. “John really believed in engaging young people in community service in Cincinnati.”
Student interns fan out across 20 different agencies, working directly with their client populations for nine weeks. The interns live together in a campus residence hall, allowing them to build their own close-knit community during the experience. Their hourly wages are paid through grants and donations procured by Xavier.
Living together gives interns the chance to share insights, reflect on their experiences and address societal issues. Weekly reflection sessions allow them to exchange stories about their experiences, pose questions and provide support for each other. Students also read articles and keep a journal during the internship to help them gain a broader understanding of the impact of their work.
The idea, of course, fits perfectly within Xavier’s Jesuit ideals of teaching its students to be men and women for others. But it does more, says Angela Gray, associate director for service and justice in the Center for Faith and Justice. “It gets those students out of the campus bubble,” she says. “It connects them to the city of Cincinnati.”
Many of the student interns do become active leaders in their communities after graduating, using their talents to address the city’s social needs.
“It’s a critical mission of the University,” says Mary Kochlefl, executive director for grants and academic assessment and planning.
And, says Gray, “I think the letters mean a great deal to the students.”
Knowing that such successful business leaders care about community service sends a powerful message.
A Sampling of Agencies Served
- Catholic Social Services’ refugee resettlement program
- Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education
- Cincinnati Recreation Commission: Division of Therapeutic Recreation
- Civic Garden Center of Greater Cincinnati
- Clovernook Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired
- The Drop-Inn Center Shelterhouse
- Freestore Foodbank
- Healthy Moms and Babes
- Imago Earth Center
- Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center
- Kennedy Heights Arts Center
- Ohio Justice and Policy Center
- Peaslee Neighborhood Center
- Project Connect Homeless Children’s Fund
- Stepping Stones Center
- Starfire Council
- United Cerebral Palsy
- Visions Community Services
- Working in Neighborhoods