America Reads*America Serves Effort Lets More Students Make a Difference

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Like the friends she has made at St. John’s University, Rachel Ortega ’15Ed marvels at the life-changing experiences she has encountered as a student at the Queens, NY, campus. Yet one opportunity has had a strong impact on her.

“Helping others through America Reads*America Serves has been one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done,” said Ortega. “You gain a real sense of personal fulfillment by helping the community while developing essential leadership skills, making valuable contacts and even finding potential job opportunities.”

Ortega is one of a growing number of St. John’s students who volunteer through the University’s America Reads*America Serves (AR*AS) program. The School of Education established the program to build upon a national teaching initiative by allowing students from all majors to serve others in a variety of organizations and activities.

AR*AS was inspired by America Reads/America Counts, a national academic-assistance effort established by the Clinton administration in 1997. The America Reads component is strictly education-based, with students mentoring and tutoring at local libraries, schools and community centers. The America Serves component is broader in scope, offering students the opportunity to volunteer in a specialized field that may complement their specific area of study. In the last two years, AF*AS has developed a close partnership with the Boys’ Club of New York and Briarwood Family Residence. They engage in many fundraising opportunities and special events at hospitals, psychiatric centers and homes for the aged.        

“Our approach offers St. John’s students a flexible platform for applying their individual skills in a variety of community outreach opportunities,” said Alexandra Foukalas ’11Ed, ’13GEd, Assistant Director of AR*AS.

Guided by AR*AS Director and Associate Dean Charisse Willis ’89SVC, ’91GEd, ’95PD, Foukalas oversees the program’s seven team leaders and 40 students who participate through Federal Work-Study (FWS) or as volunteers, committing up to 20 hours per week for one year.

Students play an important role by suggesting causes to support. For example, the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life is AR*AS’ newest outreach effort—initiated by Katie Dineen ’16C, a volunteer who heads one of the student fundraising teams. “Thanks to support from AR*AS, our team quickly became the number-one Relay for Life team on campus,” she said. “We’re well on our way to meeting our fundraising goal. The difference we make in our community gives me pride to be part of this organization.”

St. John’s participation in America Reads*America Serves empowers students to direct their service-enriched education on behalf of others, noted Foukalas. “It’s an excellent way to build on the energy and spirit of AR*AS by offering service opportunities to a broader segment of students,” she said.

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