Center for Social Concerns reconfigures national and international service programs.

The Summer Service Learning Program (SSLP) and its international counterpart (the ISSLP) have merged at the Center for Social Concerns to become NDBridge. Last summer was the final run of the SSLP and ISSLP, as applications opened for NDBridge on Oct. 31 for the upcoming summer.

The SSLP piloted with five students in 1980, preceding the opening of the Center for Social Concerns—which would come to house the SSLP program—in January 1983. These programs expanded to include international opportunities in the ISSLP—the International Summer Service Learning Programs.

Since the inception of the SSLP, a scholarship fund started by Kathy Andrews and John McMeel has assisted 3,711 students in paying for their summer experiences.

While NDBridge continues to offer eight-week long summer immersions in service work within distinct communities, some structural components have shifted. The applicant pool has narrowed to rising sophomores only, whereas formerly rising sophomores through rising seniors could participate. 

Hannah Smith ’24 participated in the SSLP twice, as a rising sophomore and a rising junior. She spent her first summer with the Benedictine sisters of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Connecticut, learning from their charism of ora et labora (prayer and work) and cultivating a sacramental attitude towards the earth. The second time, she worked with the Missionaries of Charity in Memphis, Tennessee, at their women’s overnight shelter.

Reflecting on her two SSLPs in terms of complementarity, Smith said, “That was absolutely essential. Loving the earth and loving your neighbor are necessarily connected at both the social level and the theological level … Complementarity is a word I didn’t have until my second SSLP.” 

Smith now reflects on complementarity at a range of levels: between action and contemplation, between women and men, and between her two particular SSLP experiences. Her deeper meditation was spurred on by the academic nature of the program, especially through doing a Directed Readings her second summer. 

Opportunities with the Center have consistently provided intellectual engagement in conjunction with service. The SSLP included a standard three-credit theology course called “Kinship on the Margins.” An overview of the course states,“The SSLP course applies the Catholic Social Tradition to notions of universal human kinship, the causes and effects of social injustice, and the discernment of one’s calling to work for the common good.”

The standard course could count towards nine different minors, including Poverty Studies and Compassionate Care in Medicine, according to the SSLP Student Handbook 202 circulated to that cohort. Alternate versions of the standard course could count towards three majors: neuroscience and behavior, psychology, and theology.

NDBridge will include a 1-credit course meeting once a week during the semester. The class is not cross-listed with theology according to Notre Dame’s internal course compendium, PATH Class Search. 

The course description on PATH reads as follows: “Students will develop their awareness of what justice looks like in society, how systemic injustice is perpetuated by division, self centeredness, apathy, etc., and a growing sense of their role as agents of social change. Previously held ideas around identity, politics, and culture will be interrogated. The course will enable students to competently practice contemplation and action, as informed by the principles of ethical encounter, personally and professionally.” 

With NDBridge, the total number of sites has decreased, notwithstanding the combination of domestic and international sites into one pool. There are now a total of 19 service sites across the continental United States, based on a map published by the Center. According to a 2017 piece published by Undergraduate Admissions, the SSLP had over 170 sites in over 40 states that year. 

Both of Smith’s service sites are no longer included with NDBridge. She hopes that even if the Missionaries’ shelter no longer retains a formal relationship with the Center, Notre Dame students will continue to visit and serve there. 

“Students have been going to Memphis for over 10 years now. There’s this long-standing relationship between not only the sisters, but the extended network of volunteers from Memphis and Notre Dame students. It would be a shame to see that falter,” said Smith.

She recalled one night when the volunteers bringing dinner, over thirty individuals, greeted her and her site partner not by name but as “the Notre Dame girls” as soon as they walked in, before she and her partner even had a chance to react. 

According to the Summer 2021 digital booklet, the SSLP existed to promote relationship. The booklet reads, “Approximately 80% of the student’s time should be doing relationship building, working directly with other people and particularly with the recipients of the organization’s services.”

Crystal DiBiase ‘23, went with the ISSLP to St. Monica’s Vocational School in Gulu, Uganda, this past summer. “I’m so glad St. Monica’s wasn’t taken off the list,” she said, “I know one SSLP site where people from the organization said that they were upset that they were taken off of the list for NDBridge because they have been working with Notre Dame students in the summers for a long time” 

The list of SSLP and ISSLP sites on the Center’s website was a resource beyond the program itself. “I was going to use the SSLP site lists to look for gap year opportunities because it was very organized, but now most of them are gone,” DiBiase said.

The Center for Social Concerns did not respond to requests for comment on NDBridge or the old SSLP/ISSLP programs.

Sarah Hui is a junior majoring in the Program of Liberal Studies and theology. A native Texan, she lives in Breen-Phillips Hall on campus. She enjoys checking out books from Hesburgh to read for fun during the free time she seems to have misplaced somewhere. She’s up to five right now. Send help or drop her a note at

Photo Credit: Sara Hui