MOBILE, Ala. (Christian Examiner) – Most college students spend four years counting the hours until they graduate, but students at the University of Mobile are more focused on the hours they spend serving others.
About 100 students from the Christian university, making up "Mobile Ministry Teams," logged 22,455 hours of service volunteering along the Gulf Coast as part of the university's emphasis on service.
Kathy Dean, director of communications at the university, said in a statement the volunteer work is a "lesson in practical service." Students sign up for ministry teams to help individuals and organizations across two counties, including non-profit agencies, schools, churches, coffee shops, health clinics and more.
Joe Savage, executive dean of the School of Christian Ministries, said in the two years the Ministry Team program has been in existence, students have racked up a total of more than 35,000 volunteer hours.
"To the best of our knowledge, our Ministry Team program is among the largest volunteer groups in terms of manpower in the state," Savage said. "It's an awful lot of volunteering going on, putting faith in action and making a difference."
During the 2014-2015 school year that ended in May, students volunteered at Light of the Village, Alabama Baptist Children's Home, Victory Health Partners, Chickasaw High School, Outback Camps at Camp Grace, taught English as a Second Language classes, tutored high school students, started a Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter, served at Disciple Now youth events at churches, and even flipped hamburgers at a football game.
At Light of the Village, more than 30 volunteers from UMobile's School of Christian Ministries tutored, supervised and played with about 80 children at three different Light of the Village camp sites. They assisted with the work three University of Mobile graduates were already doing as employees of the non-profit in Prichard, Ala.
Students from the university also tutored elementary-age children at the Alabama Children's Home and provided activities before and after school for students in the Chickasaw City School System. They even assisted with the football program.
"It was tremendous for our school," said Kyle Kallhoff, superintendent of the Chickasaw City School System. "They were part of our Chieftain family."
"They mentored our kids, they built relationships, and whenever that door was open, they ministered to our kids. That is what we wanted from our partnership with the University of Mobile, and we got that – and we got a whole lot more," Kallhoff said.
Service is a theme that threads its way throughout the university, Dean said. The school kicks off each fall semester with Project Serve, a university-wide day of service. On that day, more than 1,200 students, faculty and staff volunteer at over 60 locations in Mobile and Baldwin counties.
The next Project Serve will be held Sept. 25 after students return to the campus for the fall semester. They plan to help residents in two counties with landscaping and painting, sing with residents in assisted living centers and nursing homes, work in food pantries, tutor at area schools, and more.
"We believe that the Gospel-centered material that is taught in the classroom is powerful enough to change the lifestyle of any individual who truly soaks it all in, especially when that individual makes a valiant attempt to apply it to his or her life," said Drew Ballesteros, who participated in the service program and graduated from the university in May.
Ballesteros said the program teaches that "ministry is not a 9-to-5 job, but rather a way of life."
Savage said the university has a history of service "that comes out of God calling us to go and serve others." Providing students with an opportunity during college to volunteer, and the training to be effective servant leaders, is part of preparing them for ministry.
"Some are called to be traditional pastors and others are studying to be ministers in specific areas such as children, youth, college students or seniors. Some want to be church starters and others want to go into the mission field to work with orphans, human trafficking or medical missions," Savage said.