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Service still takes St. Norbert students out into the community on a regular basis.

They Made a Difference

When students, faculty and staff took part in Make a Difference Day this fall, they marked 20 years of the tradition. 

Jason Schreiber ’97 and John Dols ’96 remember serving as student organizers for the inaugural volunteer effort, Oct. 28, 1995, to assist De Pere residents with yard work and winterizing their homes. The organizational challenges were many. Social media was not available. Email was in its infancy. Finding residents who needed assistance was no easy task. Dols recalls posting flyers in local banks, grocery stores and other businesses. “It was a grassroots effort,” he says. “Faculty and staff members found people in their neighborhoods who we could help. I remember a few skeptical faculty members. ‘Why would they invite students to their home?’ ‘Why would students get up on a Saturday morning?’ One person even asked, ‘What if we get too many people?’ I assured everyone that we were not going to get too many people that first year.”

The goal was to serve at 100 area sites. In some cases, locating the site was an adventure. “Some of my fond memories are, being chronically lost,” says Carol Cortez (Communication, Emeritus), who assisted with the service day. “We didn’t have GPS. We were navigating to homes. I remember sitting at home the night before with my map out.”

Not only did the college connect with residents, but also with De Pere Fire & Rescue. Firefighters and students distributed more than 600 batteries for smoke detectors. Some 220 students volunteered that first year. “It was definitely a matching game, matching people with projects,” says Schreiber. “We had volunteers raking leaves, moving furniture, washing windows, painting different things. Student government, social groups and student organizations got involved.”

Cortez says the recipients were more than gracious. “They would invite us in for cookies, lunch or snacks. For some of these people that was much more delightful than having their windows cleaned. It was the conversation. That was such an eye opener for the students. They would get in the van and say, ‘She is like my grandmother,’ or ‘She made us cookies and talked about her life.’ Making a difference took all sorts of form that day.” 

Both of the original Make a Difference Day student organizers serve in leadership positions today. Dols is assistant principal and campus minister at Holy Family Catholic High School in Victoria, Minn. Schreiber recently became director of student life and leadership at California State University San Marcos.   

“It’s unbelievable to think that (MADD) is still going at St. Norbert,” says Schreiber. “I was nervous that we couldn’t do it. John and I balanced each other. He always believed it would work out.”

“What made it easy is it was the right thing to do,” says Dols. “It’s what the school is about and should be about.” 


Nov. 13, 2014