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Interview with Father Ray

Mack Gives Back Day, on Saturday, Nov. 8, is an effort to bring the entire Merrimack community together to engage in service. In just three years, MGB has become a signature event in the life of Merrimack College.

Merrimack’s Office of Communications asked Father Ray Dlugos, O.S.A., vice president for mission and student affairs, to give us the details on MGB.

Merrimack: Mack Gives Back Day has become quite a tradition at Merrimack in just a short time. How did it start?

Father Ray: A few years ago, several students, faculty, and staff at the college raised concerns that we had no real way of commemorating Veterans Day on Nov. 11. Until this year, classes were held as usual and there was nothing done officially by the college to acknowledge the veterans of our nation. This disturbed many people who were veterans themselves, related to veterans, and in the case of many students, had friends who were deployed by the military in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Also, since Merrimack was founded in 1947 to meet the needs of the veterans returning from World War II, we really should be able to do a better job of acknowledging the men and women who have been and are willing to serve in the military.

At the same time, we were looking for a way to inaugurate a tradition whereby we all came together to engage in community service as one. When the two ideas met, one thing led to another, and MGB was born.

Merrimack: What kind of service do we do on MGB Day?

Father Ray: We find ourselves in a wide variety of community projects including raking the leaves in cemeteries and parks, cleaning up the municipal airport and painting and doing repairs in schools and other public buildings. The North Andover organization IMEC uses as many volunteers as we can send to help package medical supplies donated from hospitals in the United States for shipping to the developing world. We might find ourselves helping with providing clothing and furniture to those in need, cleaning and cooking in shelters for the homeless, or visiting with the elderly. We are hoping to arrange for some direct service to local vets and their families this year.

One very fun part of MGB is that participants are able to share their experiences with each other and with the world through social media by posting pics and videos and messages to #mackgivesback.

Merrimack: How are service sites assigned? Does a person get to choose where he or she serves?

Father Ray: Everyone who wants to be part of MGB should start by registering ASAP using the online form at www.merrimack.edu/mackgivesback. We work very hard to make it possible for anyone who signs up as part of an identified group, such as a team, a club, a residence hall floor, a class, or even just an informal group of friends to spend their hours of service together on Mack Gives Back Day. To do so means that we have to match large groups with sites that can use a lot of volunteers and smaller groups with smaller sites. Consequently, we cannot accommodate individual requests for a particular service site — unless, of course, you are willing to arrange your own service site for yourself and your group.

Merrimack: What if people want to be part of MGB but are not free on Nov. 8?

Father Ray: We want as many people to give back to the community and honor those who served by serving others as possible. We don’t want timing or other important commitments that folks might have deprive anyone of the opportunity. Therefore, while Nov. 8 is the centerpiece of MGB, MGB really last for the entire month of November. Any community service provided by any member of the Merrimack community during November will be counted as MGB hours, as long as you tell us what you are doing, where, and with whom. We will also happily provide you with official MGB T-shirts for your time of service. You can arrange your own service site or ask us to help you do so. All of that can be done through the registration process.

Merrimack: Is there a goal for how much service Merrimack will do on MGB?

Father Ray: Our goal this year is 10,000 hours of service. Our goal last year was 7,500 hours and we managed to exceed that by a few hundred hours, so we really want to challenge ourselves to do more this year.

Merrimack: How do you see MGB growing in the future?

Father Ray: One hope that I have is that our alumni will embrace MGB and join us in doing service in their own communities on Mack Gives Back Day. I would be thrilled if, in some November not too many years from now, we are talking about 20,000 Warriors all over the world united with each other while providing 100,000 hours of service in honor of those who served.

But my biggest hope for MGB is that by doing this service in honor of those who have served us in the military, we will all become more aware of the sacrifices we have asked of them, the price they have paid in response to our asking them to go to war, and the debt we owe to them in justice for what they have given us. I hope that the more aware we all are of the real cost of war, the less willing we will be to ask anyone to make that sacrifice for us.

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