Originally published in the Spring 2016 edition of SJCNY, St. Joseph’s College Magazine
In recent years, volunteerism in the United States has declined, now reaching its lowest level in decades. Last year, just 25 percent of Americans volunteered their time, with the lowest participation from the college-aged community.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, that number was much greater in years past, and the Corporation for National and Community Service reports that New York State provided less than three million volunteers last year, ranking the state 50th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
But the story is a different one at St. Joseph’s College.
Despite the grim statistics of volunteerism in the country, SJC is proud of the strong culture of volunteering and serving others that has been at the core of a St. Joseph’s education throughout the College’s 100-year history. Since 1916, SJC has prepared students for lives of integrity, intellectual and spiritual values, social responsibility and service. Today, that culture is thriving with hundreds of students participating in community service and service-learning projects each semester.
Our students and graduates embrace service, not only during their years at St. Joseph’s, but as a way of life.
—SJC President Jack P. Calareso, Ph.D.
“Service is more than just a concept at SJC, it is endemic to the educational experience of our students,” said College President Jack P. Calareso, Ph.D. “We promise the highest-quality education that leads to professional success, and we have a clear record of achievement and accomplishments in many fields. We expect from our students a commitment to redemptive citizenship and our students and graduates embrace service, not only during their years at St. Joseph’s, but as a way of life.”
With more courses on both campuses including a service requirement, students are encouraged to participate in community service projects that will tie in classroom learning with firsthand experiences. The benefits of volunteering one’s time and efforts are endless, and there is no doubt that SJC students are touching the lives of countless people in need.
Whether removing tons of debris from Patchogue Lake, serving thousands of meals to New Yorkers in need at a Brooklyn soup kitchen or rebuilding homes destroyed in natural disasters, SJC students are committed to making a difference.
SJC Long Island
Throughout the year, SJC Long Island students complete thousands of hours of community service through their chosen clubs and the Office of Campus Ministry. Under the direction of Patrick Tracy, director of campus ministry at SJC Long Island, students regularly participate in projects that include cooking and serving meals at two local soup kitchens; baking and delivering pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving; building homes with Habitat for Humanity; hosting the Special Olympics; and partaking in SJC’s Make a Difference Day, a day of community service inspired by the national movement of the same name. In addition, Tracy often receives calls from local organizations in need of help, requests that his network of SJC volunteers are happy to help fill.
Students come [to St. Joseph’s College] wanting to make a difference or raise awareness about certain issues.
— Directory of Campus Ministry Patrick Tracy
“The best part of my job is seeing students realize their efforts have made an impact,” said Tracy. “In my years here at the College, the number of volunteers has increased and people seem to be more seasoned in community service. Students come here wanting to make a difference or raise awareness about certain issues.”
One of the larger community service projects that SJC Long Island students participate in is the annual Alternative Winter Break. Students from multiple clubs and organizations come together with SJC staff members to spend one week helping people in areas of need. This year, a group traveled to Moore, Okla., a city still reeling from the effects of a 2013 tornado that blasted the community with 210 mph winds, and left 24 people dead and 377 injured. For one week, SJC students and staff partnered with an organization called Serve Moore to help repair homes and assist with their efforts throughout the community.
The culture of service that SJC Long Island students are immersed in extends outside of the classroom and beyond. For one SJC alumnus and one graduate student, that meant creating Project9line, Inc., an organization that aims to empower veterans with reintegration through the arts and entrepreneurship.
Patrick Donohue, U.S. Army veteran and current graduate student at SJC Long Island, suffered from PTSD after returning home from Afghanistan in 2012. With the help of SJC alumnus Brian Cutaia ’10, he founded Project9line, Inc., to provide venues for communication and programs, such as meditation and relaxation; writing, music, comedy and songwriting workshops; and recreational horseback riding for veterans.
“As an Army veteran, I wanted to assist my brothers and sisters in arms to continue doing what matters the most, here at home,” said Donohue. “Many veterans are having trouble transitioning and we are trying to assist them in this process. Suffolk County has the second largest veteran population in the United States, and our warriors need their communities to join forces to assist in the reintegration process.”
Proof that volunteering is a two-way street, providing benefits for both those in need and those who offer assistance, Donohue added: “Giving back is the most rewarding thing in the world. Helping others actually helps me the most, and, as of lately, it helped me find a healthy balance so I can focus on other awesome life happenings as well.”
SJC Brooklyn students are also involved in their community, regularly participating in St. Saviour Parish’s Brown Bag Lunch Program. Through this program, SJC Brooklyn students make and distribute lunches to the homeless population of New York City while spreading warm wishes and hospitality by decorating the bags and including inspirational notes that they attach to freshly baked brownies. The many different parts of this particular project allow a large number of students to be involved and use their talents in different ways.
“Community service is an area that every student at SJC Brooklyn takes part in at some point in their career at the College,” said Michele Corsetti, coordinator of community service at SJC Brooklyn. “Community service is important because through serving others, the students get a better idea of who they are as individuals. They learn what social issues are important to them and how a small act can make a big difference in someone’s life.”
SJC Brooklyn students also had the unique experience of learning by example when they regularly volunteered at St. John’s Bread & Life with SJC’s first lady, Rose Calareso. Over the course of one year, Mrs. Calareso and the students prepared, cooked and served meals to thousands of New Yorkers in need.
“It was my impression that the students appreciated the opportunity to participate in a variety of service projects during our visits,” said Mrs. Calareso. “Some assisted with preparing food while others worked in the serving areas. There was a lot of interaction with other volunteers and the community, which created a positive sense of a shared mission. Many learning opportunities arise from visiting with people who need help at a particular time of their lives.”
For some SJC Brooklyn students, their desire to help out starts at SJC; for others, it begins before they enter the College. Kathryn Brucas ’17, Habitat for Humanity site leader and active volunteer, began volunteering in high school. While participating in SJC’s Alternative Spring Break in 2014, she developed a passion for helping people who have been affected by disasters rebuild their lives. She became an active volunteer with Habitat for Humanity and was later assigned as a site leader, directing fellow volunteers and overseeing the projects.
“I volunteer because it makes me feel undefeatable and creates so many memories,” said Brucas. “I have built so many bonds with fellow students, faculty members, site leaders and homeowners that I will forever cherish. The hope and optimism of all these individuals remind me that my sore hands and feet, blisters, cuts and aches are temporary and are worth it at the end of a day. One day of my hard work is one day closer to a family being back in the home where they belong.”
Brucas will take her passion for helping one step further, as she plans to complete one year of service with Habitat for Humanity AmeriCorps after she graduates from SJC.
Both Campuses Collaborate
Similar to SJC Long Island’s Alternative Winter Break, dedicated students and staff from both campuses participate in Alternative Spring Break trips, where they spend their time off participating in various service projects in areas that were affected by natural disasters. Most recently, the group traveled to aid in recovery efforts for local communities that were still dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. Previous trips have included building homes in Georgetown, S.C., and rebuilding homes destroyed by tornadoes in Joplin, Mo.
The greatest benefit of my service learning in Nicaragua was interacting with the children and seeing their faces when we arrived in the community.
— Jacqueline Poppo, B.S. ’15, M.S. ’17
Students, staff, faculty and alumni from both campuses have also worked together to create and cultivate an ongoing service-learning project in Sutiaba, Nicaragua. Since 2007, 200 SJC students have successfully built homes, repaired roofs, installed washing sinks, planted fruit trees, helped form a women’s craft-making cooperative and established a children’s scholarship program in the country. This service-learning project is an extension of what students are taught in the classroom, allowing them to apply what they have learned throughout the semester.
“The greatest benefit of my service learning in Nicaragua was interacting with the children and seeing their faces when we arrived in the community,” said Jacqueline Poppo, B.S. ’15, M.S. ’17. “We are people from two different worlds, but we came together and shared experiences. It taught me not to take anything for granted. There was so much strength in the connections that we made in those short nine days.”
In 2009, a group of alumni formed the Nicaragua Program Alumni Group as a way to continue helping the people of Nicaragua. To date, more than 60 students in Nicaragua have been sponsored by members of the SJC community, ensuring that they can attend their local Catholic school. SJC also ensures that young children have access to preschool programs by helping to pay the teachers’ salaries with the help of the Nicaraguan government. Students who participated in previous trips also formed SJC’s Nicaragua Project Club to enhance and expand upon the works of SJC’s faculty-driven Nicaragua Project by helping to raise funds and gather supplies, plan for future trips and raise awareness about the project. The next trip to Nicaragua takes place in January 2017.
Serving Families Closer to Home
When the holidays come around, both campuses pitch in to make Christmas special for children and families in need right here in our communities. SJC Brooklyn’s Freshman Year Experience program joins forces with P.S. 65 in the Bronx to sponsor a grade and ensure that all of the school’s children receive a gift. SJC Brooklyn’s freshman class raises money to purchase toys for the children before wrapping and tagging each gift. The presents are then delivered to the school, fulfilling holiday wishes for every child.
Similarly, SJC Long Island sponsors local families in need and, with the help of the entire campus, provides dozens of gifts to children and adults. The presents are delivered by Santa Claus himself (known to colleagues as Pat Tracy), ensuring everyone will have a present to open on Christmas morning. No matter the project, the spirit of service is growing at St. Joseph’s College. With no signs of slowing down, students are changing the world around them, one project at a time.