By Steve Vivona
Last year St. John's University's Vincentian Center for Church and Society held its first annual Service Day, giving members of the University community an opportunity to spend a day helping those less fortunate. The event, entitled "What a Difference a Day Makes," was so successful the organizers decided to offer that same opportunity this year.
In a recent interview Mary Ann Dantuono, Associate Director of the Vincentian Center for Church and Society and one of the day's principal organizers, told St. John's Monthly that this year the number of volunteers increased from 180 to 350, and the event was expanded from three St. John's campuses to all five with volunteers working at 24 sites, painting, cleaning classrooms, visiting the elderly and much more.
"We had a lot of good things happening," Ms. Dantuono stressed, adding "there were a lot of differences made in the community and a lot of hard work by the volunteers. Everybody came back and said it was fun." Ms. Dantuono explained that since there was positive word of mouth from last year they had an influx of volunteers but still needed to keep the day manageable.
Recruiting volunteers is important but finding sites that fit the criteria of the day is essential as well, Ms. Dantuono said. Many of her team leaders from last year returned and they were asked to nominate new team leaders. Then leaders were asked to develop a team of five to ten volunteers. "Each site tells us how many volunteers they feel are appropriate."
She credited the Service Opportunity Council with helping to organize and run the event smoothly. "We have a lot of support for it. The important thing is doing it in such a way that it comes together well," Ms. Dantuono observed, stressing the idea of quality over quantity. "We are probably at our growth point now" in terms of volunteer numbers.
Because of the heightened interest this year Ms. Dantuono said that the committee offered groups the opportunity to work in conjunction with them on Service Day but not necessarily under their direct supervision, allowing them access to materials such as T-shirts and inviting them to their opening prayer service. "They were working with us that day in the same spirit."
The goal of Service Day is not just to spend one day serving others, Ms. Dantuono stressed. "The goal is to highlight service as part of who we are and what we do at St. John's. It's an opportunity to give people a really good experience of service and connect them with the community."
The hope is that all participants whether they are students, faculty, administrators, staff or alumni will integrate service into their St. John's experience. Ms. Dantuono said organizers try to mix and match teams from different areas of the University. Students and faculty get to experience each other in a different way. "We get a lot of comments on the evaluation forms about how (the experience) builds community. That becomes a by-product of the day."
Service Day was held on the Feast of St. Vincent de Paul to honor his mission of service to the poor. "One of the nice parts of the Feast falling in September," Ms. Dantuono noted, "is that it's a nice way to start the year off. People get the idea, know it's possible, get connected with a community group and if they want to do more during the course of the year they're hitting the ground running."