Making the Holidays Brighter, Student Volunteers Accept Katie Couric's "Challenge for Change"

Monday, November 18, 2013

Thanksgiving is a time when want is most keenly felt among those in need. St. John's University's commitment to helping others enjoy a happy holiday was on full display in November as more than 100 student volunteers participated in the Katie television show’s "Challenge for Change," which encouraged New Yorkers to collect donated turkeys for needy families.

A crew from Katie Couric’s ABC talk show visited the Queens, NY, campus to film the event on Saturday, November 16. Gathering in front of Carnesecca Arena, student volunteers and other members of the St. John’s community collected more than 100 turkeys, which were donated to The River Fund, a Richmond Hill-based organization dedicated to serving and empowering the needy throughout the five boroughs. The St. John’s event was aired as a special segment on the Katie show at 3 p.m. on Friday, November 22.

Several St. John’s departments quickly mobilized to make the event a reality, including Athletics, the College of Professional Studies, the Office of Alumni Relations, the Office of Marketing and Communications, the Office of Media Relations, Student Life and the Vincentian Institute for Social Action.

Lynn Stravino, director of academic service-learning, spoke highly of the collaborative spirit that allowed the various departments to pull the event together in such a short space of time. "This is what we do,” she stressed. “It's part of our mission. If there's a need, we fill it."

As soon as the call came to her office, Stravino contacted other departments to quickly build a team that would get the word out and mobilize the particular resources of each. "We gathered around the table and used the strengths of each area to make it work," she said, adding that many turkeys were donated by the Municipal Credit Union, which has sponsored a number of events at St. John's.

St. John's Athletics also contributed two free tickets to Saturday's women's basketball game at Carnesecca Arena for every turkey donated to the cause. During the pre-game event, St. John's pep band joined the dance and cheer teams in providing entertainment for the participants—and also starred in the film segment along with other student volunteers.

"It was a great opportunity for St. John's and our students to participate in Katie Couric’s 'Challenge,'" stressed Mary H. Pelkowski, associate dean for student engagement.

"During this time of giving thanks,” she said, “the event encouraged local communities to make a difference and give back, and the St. John's community definitely answered that call and rose to the challenge. This is yet another example among many of our students living out our Vincentian Mission by serving those less fortunate."