Spartans Off to a Strong Start Helping Central Texans In Need

From chauffeuring senior citizens to the grocery store to handing out meals on the streets of Austin, many Upper School students have spent their free time this summer and fall rolling up their sleeves and helping others in the Central Texas community volunteering through the St. Stephen’s Service Learning program. It partners with 12 non-profit organizations offering students a multitude of opportunities to volunteer around the city.

Head of School Chris Gunnin and his wife, Nancy, were recently part of the first St. Stephen’s group to help with the Mobile Loaves & Fishes Truck Ministry. They worked shoulder-to-shoulder on a Saturday with seven Spartans to put meals in the hands of Austin’s homeless community and those who experience food insecurity. During the first part of the morning, the group prepared meals and loaded a food truck. Then the group drove to designated spots in the city to distribute the food, along with clothing items.

“The clients we met were grateful and friendly, and our Spartans were compassionate and committed,” said Gunnin. “For all of us, the experience was a reminder that ‘to whom much is given, much is expected.’”

For several years, St. Stephen’s students have been volunteering with Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ Community First Village. Math Instructor Michael Oberle and nine students made the first organized trip of the school year to the 51-acre master planned community in far East Austin that provides affordable, permanent housing and a supportive community for the disabled, chronically homeless in Central Texas. The students grabbed gloves, shovels and rakes and put their landscaping skills to work with the residents in the community garden, removing weeds and laying mulch. Relationship building is what has had the greatest impression on the students.

“I learned firsthand how vital community and teamwork are, especially to give people the opportunity to turn their lives around,” said Avery Robinette ‘26.

Tristan Lovell ‘25 had no idea how many lives she could touch by giving just a couple of hours of her time and energy helping in the garden.

“I was surprised to learn how big of an impact small services such as mine would have on the whole community,” said Lovell.

Another new opportunity is volunteering with the Ronald McDonald Lunches with Love program. Students assembled sack lunches for families living at the Ronald McDonald House, while their sick children are cared for in nearby hospitals. The prepared meals allow parents to focus on and spend more time with their children.

Upper School Service Learning Coordinator Jodi Blount has been busy organizing more than 20 service learning trips from now until December 2023. She plays a vital role in keeping students on track, and informing them about the open spots available on each outing. 

“I feel like all of us here at St. Stephen’s are privileged in some area – privileged to this education, privileged to be on this campus, privileged to all of the opportunities that come being at St. Stephen’s,” said Blount. “It’s our purpose in life to give back to those who don’t have those privileges.”

Community service and service learning, which encourages students to think beyond their own needs and develop a passion for service, are an essential aspect of a St. Stephen’s education. All Spartans are required to complete eight hours of volunteer service per academic year, but many students are exceeding that. For example, David "Trip" Lundquist '27 has racked up 40+ volunteer hours, with 12 of those hours spent driving senior citizens to the grocery store and to their doctor’s appointments over the summer.

“It just makes my heart happy,” said Blount.

Nearly 40 students (twice as many as last year) have already reached out to let Blount know they are pursuing what’s called the Service Learning Distinction. To earn a distinction, a student must complete 18+ volunteer hours with the same organization, write two essays about their motivation behind the work and submit a video, do additional hours or create a piece of artwork that reflects the work they’ve done and the connections they’ve made. 

“I am proud of our students' enthusiasm and commitment to this work, and I know that service learning is a vital part of the developmental experiences of becoming a Spartan,” said Gunnin. “For a school that at its founding was dedicated to the recovery of humans in 1949, it is powerful to see today's Spartans living into that mission and touching the lives of new friends in our greater community.”

St. Stephen’s students and parents can visit the Service Learning page in MySSES for more details on the entire program, including how to sign-up for opportunities, track hours and earn a Service Learning Distinction.
Address: 6500 St. Stephen's Dr., Austin, TX 78746
Phone: (512) 327-1213