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Spring Break Is Time to Serve for SJU Students

Kristina DeMeis ’16C sorts food for the poor at the Denver plunge.
Thursday, March 13, 2014

This spring break, 38 St. John’s students could be found volunteering in cities across the country. From a service plunge in Denver to a Youth Service Opportunities Project (YSOP) in Washington, D.C., to a Habitat for Humanity Collegiate Challenge in Winston-Salem, NC, and beyond, SJU students embraced the University’s Catholic and Vincentian mission of service.

“While college students across the country often head to the beach for vacation during spring break, many of our students travel to communities in need,” said Mary H. Pelkowski, associate dean for student engagement, Division of Student Affairs.

Spring break service trips, sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Ministry, offer students a chance to reflect on their faith, find meaning through service, and achieve success in their college experience.

Through St. John’s Plunge Program, which emphasizes community building and living simply, 10 students spent the week at various sites around Denver, working with organizations that assist the poor and disadvantaged. In partnership with the Colorado Vincentian Volunteers, students packaged orders at the Food Bank of the Rockies, helped at the Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home, and worked at a home redevelopment organization.

“Being able to help the people of Colorado was a truly amazing experience and I believe that the people I served, and served with, are a reflection of the face of God on earth,” said Theresa LoCascio ’17TCB. “I’m grateful and privileged to have participated in this plunge.” 

In Washington, D.C., eight students cooked and packaged food for those in need through YSOP, which encourages young people to be engaged citizens through direct service to those who are homeless and hungry.  During a blizzard that paralyzed the city, the students served hot meals at a packed shelter. Further south, 12 students worked at Give Kids the World, which provides children with life-threatening illnesses and their families a free vacation at a 70-acre nonprofit resort in Florida. SJU volunteers served food, operated the carousel, and played games in the arcade with sick children. 

Psychology major Sarah Taormino ’14C, who volunteered with Give Kids the World, said, “Service has been the alpha and the omega of my college experience. This trip has given me a renewed perspective and an appreciation of how precious time is.”

As part of Habitat for Humanity’s National Collegiate Challenge, the St. John’s chapter headed to Winston-Salem, NC, where they stayed in a group home and worked to restore a house with other college students. The students enjoyed evening gatherings at churches where they shared meals and learned about challenges faced by the poor in the local area.

“Our students who participate in service experiences over school breaks open themselves up to many new things, including a deeper awareness of poverty,” said Kate Cafferky Giancatarino, campus minister for Vincentian service. “We hope that these experiences not only impact our students while they are away, but that they continue to be a source for reflection and growth.”