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Difference Makers Completion Ceremony

Staten Island campus civic engagement initiative transforms high school students’ community service into college readiness with the help of St. John’s University community partnerships.
Tuesday, February 6, 2018

On Tuesday, January 30th, nearly 200 high school students, parents, teachers and principals, and not-for-profit partners joined the St. John's University, Staten Island Campus community to celebrate their completion of the Difference Makers program, a Staten Island campus based civic engagement initiative that transforms high school students’ community service into college readiness with the help of St. John’s University community partnerships.

Dr. William Reisel, director of the Difference Makers, founded the high school based program to extend St. John’s Vincentian mission and the educational skills of academic service-learning to local high school students.  Over the fall semester, he worked closely with Susan Wagner and Tottenville High School teachers and 59 of their students on projects that taught students invaluable leadership and capacity building skills In doing so, students studied social issues on Staten Island that they wished to address and improve. The fundamental outcome is that students partner with a local not-for-profit, raise funds, and donate them to the partner at the culminating certificate of completion ceremony.

Dr. Reisel, an award-winning Professor of Management in the Tobin College of Business, included the high school programs in St. John’s network of community service partners, including City Harvest, Central Family Life Center, and Staten Island Neighborhood Food Initiative.  In addition, Tottenville and Susan Wagner High School students formed their own fund-raising campaigns to benefit local organizations such as St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, Children’s Aid, Make the Road, NY, Five Flags Company, Inc., and Pluto Rescue, addressing the issues of elder care, children’s aid, children’s cancer, immigration, food quality and food insecurity, and domestic pet rescue.

At the Difference Makers completion ceremony, Dr. James O’Keefe, Dr. Robert Fanuzzi, and Dr. Reisel thanked the students for extending the St. John’s mission of service and social enterprise to Staten Island.  Leaders of all the organizations who benefited from the Difference Makers program thanked St. John’s and the high school students for their invaluable contribution.  Principals from the two participating high schools were deeply impressed by what Dr. Reisel and Difference Makers had accomplished for their students and on behalf of Staten Island. Principal Scarmato of Tottenville High School said, “It is said that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, but in this case it took a village to make a difference.” Susan Wagner Principal David Cugini reflected on the program saying, “This program allows our children to understand their capacity to be an agent of change and to show how much they are needed. Incentivizing students in this way is the most effective form of education.”

St. John’s professors attended all meetings at both high schools and organized the program and culminating event. Dr. Reisel was awarded a university-wide recognition for the accomplishments of the Difference Makers program. Students provided self-reflection statements at the conclusion of the program that showed how deeply they cared about making a difference on Staten Island.

Dr. Reisel spoke to parents and guardians of the participants about the students’ semester-long work: “Difference Makers is about a special form of getting your children ready for college.  The foundation of their work is grounded in the culture, philosophy, and direction of what we hold true at St. John’s University.  We believe in serving the underserved.  Here on the Staten Island campus…our leadership team is fully committed to working hand in hand with high schools and leaders of important not-for-profits.  We form civic engagements so that education is no longer delivered from the ivory tower but is a partnership extending across all of the Staten Island Community.”

Dr. Reisel is eager to continue the expansion of the Difference Makers program to help more students learn the value of Academic Service-Learning and to get ready for college

Susan E. Wagner High School and Tottenville High School students can sign up for the fall 2018 Difference Makers by clicking on this link.