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Why We Serve

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Embracing the example of St. Vincent de Paul, the St. John’s community is dedicated to serving those in need. Our students, faculty, administrators, staff, and alumni commit thousands of hours each year to volunteering locally, nationally, and internationally. In the process, they discover what it truly means to be Vincentian.


Frank Jerome ‘06CPS, ‘10TCB

“…being Vincentian means to have empathy for, and understanding of, those in need.”

Hometown: Point Fortin, Trinidad and Tobago
Administrator: Technology Analyst, Student Affairs, St. John’s University

What is the most gratifying part of helping others?
The most gratifying part is allowing others to believe in the kindness of humanity which ultimately provides them with hope and love. With love and hope, one can derive the strength to persevere and overcome any situation.

What does it mean to you to be Vincentian?
I believe being Vincentian means to have empathy for, and understanding of, those in need. But more important, being Vincentian means playing an active role in improving the quality of life of those around me.

How has your service work helped you in your everyday life?
Service has helped me develop into a more compassionate, patient, grateful and understanding person. It has also allowed me to become more appreciative of the blessings that were bestowed upon me.

Tracey Cannova ’13Pharm.D.“ Everyone’s story is unique–we should never judge others.”

Hometown: Staten Island, NY
Alumni: Rutgers Pharmaceutical Industry Medical Information Fellow at Bristol-Myers Squibb

What is the nature of your service work?
During my first two years of the Ozanam Scholars Program, I volunteered at a nursing home, soup kitchens, and after-school programs. During my third and fourth year, I volunteered at an intermediate school and then started my own free SAT prep class.

Why did you choose to help in this way?
I wanted to help high school students feel more confident in their ability to succeed in taking the SAT and getting accepted into college. That’s why I decided to offer free classes. We also discussed their fears and doubts about taking the test, which is just as important.

How has service work changed you?
Service has made me a more compassionate person and someone with a great deal of empathy and understanding. Everyone’s story is unique–we should never judge others.

Nikhat Azam ’14C“…I can truly make a difference in my community.”

Hometown: Staten Island, NY
Student: Biology 

What is the nature of your service work?
Habitat for Humanity builds affordable housing for low-income families. We go to local neighborhoods and Habitat’s trained staff teaches the volunteers about drilling ceiling planks, framing doors, and so much more. As an organization, we also work with City Harvest, A Brush with Kindness, Midnight Run, and Ronald McDonald House.   

Why did you choose to work with this particular organization?
I wanted to experience a different type of community service—one where every minute of my efforts would result in someone being helped. I also wanted to talk with the people I was helping so I could hear their stories and learn from them. Habitat offers all of this and more.

How has service work influenced you?
Service work has changed me in several ways, but most important, it has made me realize that I can truly make a difference in my community. It helped me establish a level of self-assurance to evaluate my skills and be confident in the work I do.

Brandon Turner ’16TCB“…we receive the blessings of smiles, gratitude, and humility.”

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Student: Accounting, M.B.A.

How did you first get involved with service at St. John's?
I participated in the freshman Rendu Service Plunge and at the conclusion of the plunge, I was invited to take part in the weekly service opportunities that Campus Ministry offered. Since then, service has become an integral part of my growth here.

Why did you choose to become active in service?
My faith–it’s the reason why I get involved and serve. It challenges me to help those in need. When we serve others, not only do we give of ourselves, but we receive the blessings of smiles, gratitude, and humility.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering performing service work?
Do it. Service work is definitely the most rewarding experience one can have in growing with society and faith. It connects us to our human needs and the needs of others while deepening our relationship with God.

Louise Donohoe ’14CPS“I saw New York City’s income inequality firsthand.”

Hometown: Boston, MA
Student: Administrative Studies

How did you first get involved with service at St. John’s?
My first service experience at St. John’s was a Midnight Run in 2010. We drove past an expensive clothing store on Broadway and when we turned the corner, we found a group of hungry men and women who greeted us with warm smiles. I saw New York City’s income inequality firsthand.

How has service work influenced you?
In serving the homeless in Manhattan, I developed the courage to interact with people I see on the streets outside. I’ve started carrying granola bars and other small snacks to give to someone on the train or in the subway who might need it more than I do.  

What have you learned from someone you’ve helped?
The greatest lesson came from a man I served on the Midnight Run. I asked him how he felt about the word “homeless.” He said, “Home is where the heart is.” He told me about his strong friendships with others on the street and how they function as a family-unit. That’s love, by all accounts. If their hearts are with their friends on the street, then indeed, they have a home. It’s a house they don’t have.

John P. Clarke ’55CBA, ’57L“…if I can lift their spirits even just a little, it’s worth it.”

Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Faculty: Chair, Department of Law, The Peter J. Tobin College of Business

How did you first get involved with service at St. John’s?
The Vincentians gave me almost a full scholarship for undergraduate and law school, so to this day, I am very grateful for their help. My wife left some money to Bread and Life in her will. When I delivered her bequest, I decided to get involved. It started with me just tagging along on the van. Ten years later, I’m still taking those trips.  

What is the most gratifying part of helping others?
I love to work on the serving line at Bread and Life because I get to greet everyone. Very often, someone will come along and their head will be down and I simply say, “Good morning.” I try to perk them up. It’s important because everybody has some sort of problem and if I can lift their sprits even just a little, it’s worth it.

What sacrifices have you made so that you could serve others?
I’m not sure it’s really a sacrifice, but I have a scholarship fund set up here at St. John’s for people who show academic promise and have financial need. When people ask me to write up a will, I ask them to make a contribution to the fund so that I can help others the way St. John’s helped me.