Joliet, Ill. – Service is one of the core Franciscan values upon which the University of St. Francis (USF) is founded. As part of New Student Orientation each year, freshmen students have an opportunity to experience the impact that service can have on a community by volunteering their time at organizations and sites in and around the Joliet area through the University’s Foundations Service Project.

On Friday, Aug. 16, groups of students traveled to a variety of sites, including Habitat for Humanity ReStore, the Old Joliet Prison, the Will County Forest Preserve, Sharefest New Lenox, Hands of Hope, and the Northern Illinois Food Bank. For over two hours, the groups performed various tasks such as organizing inventory, sorting donations, cleaning up the environment, and packing food.

The Foundations Service Project is a component of the Foundations course at USF, which is designed to acclimate freshman students to the University’s culture.

“Freshman students serve with their Foundations class section at a Joliet-area location as a way to both introduce service into the course as a core value, as well as to give them an opportunity to build community and get to know their faculty outside of the classroom,” said Allie Youngren, USF Student Life Coordinator.

Freshman nursing major Nathan Aftanas and his classmates were assigned to volunteer at the Old Joliet Prison, where they were tasked with weeding and mulching a portion of the prison yard.

“When we first got there, I looked at where we were going to work and saw tall weeds everywhere. It looked run down. But after only a couple of hours of work, it looked refreshed and new,” he said.

Aftanas, a resident of New Lenox, enjoyed the experience and felt that he and his classmates made a difference.

“It was like going to church. You feel good about yourself because you did something positive and gave back to the community,” he said.

While Aftanas knows that USF will continue to present him with opportunities to give back as a student, he continues to look to his parents as an inspiration to serve.

“I just feel like I have been privileged my whole life. I have always had a roof over my head and a meal in front of me. My parents work hard and do so much for me, so I make it a point to volunteer. I just like giving back. It feels good to make a difference.”

Actual Foundations courses began on Monday, Aug. 19. For the rest of the semester, students will continue to learn about USF’s mission and the important role they have in bringing it to life each day.

“The course uses the framework of ‘Big History,’ beginning with the origin of the universe through the present in order to provide an intellectual foundation for examining the enduring human questions,” said Jessica Peek, USF Director of University Ministry. “The course is multidisciplinary, which lends itself to the practice of integrated thinking and an understanding of the nature of liberal education in the light of the USF mission. One of the learning outcomes includes a service learning component, so the service project we do during Orientation provides a preliminary experience of service through which students can begin to reflect on their role in enlivening our mission of ‘contributing to the world through service and leadership.”

The University of St. Francis, in Joliet, Ill., serves over 4,000 students nationwide, offering undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work. There are over 50,000 USF alumni across the globe. For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.