Servant Leadership: Learning from the Act of Service

By Erin Galvin — Growing up in Catholic schools, service was always incorporated into my education.  It began with small acts of charity, such as preparing food baskets for a Thanksgiving food drive and completing service hours in junior high.

While I enjoyed these experiences, it wasn’t until I experienced Jesuit secondary and higher education that service became more than a mere requirement.  Over the past few years, I have come to value service for the personal relationships that I have developed with others.  The opportunity to be fully present to another human being has made service a meaningful part of my life.

As I reflect on what service means to me, I immediately think of my first service experience where I developed relationships with the people that I served.  This service experience took place during my sophomore year of high school when I signed up to spend a Monday evening participating in the Labre Project.  The Labre Project is a weekly ministry of friendship and food to the homeless in Akron, Ohio.

In three short hours, service became an act of being with others rather than doing for others.  I met several individuals who openly welcomed several high school students and teachers into their living space (usually the steps outside of a church or a camp that they set up near the railroad tracks) to talk with them about their lives and current events. They also offered advice to all of us students, such as emphasizing the importance of making good decisions and getting a good education. Through my conversations with my Labre friends, I learned that they had experienced a series of events or made decisions that led them to homelessness.  Listening to their stories helped me to see beyond the common stereotypes associated with homeless individuals as well as understand the obstacles that they face on a daily basis.

While this service experience took place over six years ago, it opened my eyes to how service can be an act of being present to another. This is the experience from which my passion for service stems and the reason why service continues to be an integral part of my Marquette experience.

At Marquette, I have had countless opportunities to participate in service experiences and often times I feel like I take away far more than I give to the people that I work with. In each of these service experiences, I strive to be fully present to others and build relationships with them.  From participating in the Dorothy Day Social Justice Living Learning Community to going on service trips through the MAP and IMAP programs, the relationships that I have build with others in the context of service have transformed me.  Sometimes these relationships brought a smile to my face because of the simple joy of experiencing friendship or playing games with schoolchildren. Other times, I have found myself saddened and frustrated by the injustices of this world.  Regardless of the emotion that each conversation evoked, each relationship called me to continue to participate in service and reflect on how I can use college education to benefit the lives of others.

As a future educator, I hope to empower my students to achieve their goals as well as give them opportunities to participate in service just like my teachers did for me.


Erin Galvin is a rising senior majoring in Elementary Education and Mathematics.  This summer she is teaching at Breakthrough Fort Worth, an affiliate of Breakthrough Collaborative.  The program provides highly motivated students from underserved populations with a six-year academically intense enrichment program with the ultimate goal that the students will graduate from a four-year university.  This is Erin’s second year with the program, and she will be teaching 8th grade Geometry and Algebra. In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Erin will be serving as the Math Department Chair where she will work closely with a Mentor Teacher and her fellow math teachers to provide their students with quality math instruction.

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