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A Community Partnership That Gives Employees the Chance to Serve

August 11, 2014

It began in the fall of 2012: A university community reaching out to support a group of high school students to impact their development in positive and meaningful ways. The university, of course, is St. John’s and the high school is Cristo Rey Brooklyn High School in East Flatbush. Cristo Rey Brooklyn educates young people of limited economic means to become men and women of faith, purpose, and service. Through the Office of Mission, the Vincentian Institute for Social Action (VISA) and Campus Ministry were chosen to support the professional, personal, and academic development of Cristo Rey students through cocurricular programming. 

Lynn Stravino, Director of Academic Service-Learning and the VISA liaison for Cristo Rey has been instrumental in connecting and developing programs to meet the needs of the high school students.  In this role, she has guided the Institute’s program development and expansion through collaboration with various University departments and organizations. These internal partnerships have strengthened the support provided to the school. 

Academic service-learning projects that provided opportunities to work with the high schoolers were woven into SJU students’ course work. In a senior-level physics course, SJU students prepared and presented workshops aimed at helping to increase Cristo Rey students’ knowledge of physics. After the workshops, Huizhong Xu, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, noted that, “the average high school student score improved from a pre-score of 40 to a post-score of 70.”

In an Introduction to Marketing course taught by George Maggiore, adjunct associate professor, St. John’s students worked in teams to develop a marketing plan to increase enrollment and corporate work sponsorships for the Cristo Rey students. Throughout the year, Campus Ministry provided workshops  at the high school on topics such as Christian service, Catholic social teaching, and social justice issues. Throughout the year, Campus Ministry provided workshops on college readiness as well as topics on Christian service and Catholic social teaching. The Ozanam Scholars provided tutoring at the school on a regular basis. 

As programming expanded, various University departments and organizations apart from the mission sector were asked to help strengthen and support the services provided. The response from the University community was extremely positive. VISA coordinated two one-day conferences that brought the Cristo Rey students to campus for various skill-building sessions. The sessions included developing writing skills, led by Sean Murray, assistant professor, Institute for Writing Studies; how to effectively participate in a debate, led by the SJU debate team; and sharpening interview techniques, offered by the Career Center. In order to practice dining etiquette, the Cristo Rey students also attended a luncheon with members of the President’s Society.

“The continued support of faculty, staff, and administrators is a shining example of the University’s mission and its commitment to addressing the needs of the community,” said Deanne Southwell, executive director of VISA.

Last August, Vincentian Mission Certificate (VMC) current members and alumni assisted Cristo Rey seniors with their college application essays at a three-day writing workshop on campus. 

Jack Flynn, director of student conduct, volunteered as a writing coach. “I was impressed by how seriously my students took the writing process, and it was easy to see how motivated they were to create a lasting impression with their essay,” he said. “They had such great attitudes—very positive, very upbeat, even if their work was being critiqued. I remember leaving at the end of the process and thinking how great it would be if these kids were to study at St. John’s one day.”

Kathy Meehan, associate vice president for athletics, commented, “St. Vincent de Paul said having charity in our heart and words isn’t everything: it has to be put into action. Then it generates love in the hearts of those who practice it and wins over everyone.  This captures the way both my husband and I feel about our work as writing coaches with Cristo Rey last year. The students’ eagerness to listen and express themselves touched our hearts.”

This year, the writing workshops will be held on August 26 and 27, and coaches are once again needed. SJU employees from all departments are encouraged to share their time and talent and continue the SJU Vincentian tradition of serving the community.

"Cristo Rey Brooklyn has been incredibly enriched by our partnership with St John’s University,” said Enuma Menkiti, director of guidance at Cristo Rey. As a college prep high school working with students who are the first in their family to go to college, we must create a college-going culture that extends beyond the classroom, beyond the teachers, and even beyond our college guidance department staff. Programs such as the Summer Writing Workshop and the One-Day Conference have allowed our students to experience the resources and environment of a college campus and to feel the support and motivation that come from having St. John’s students, professors, and administrators all invested in their success.”

To find out how to participate in the Cristo Rey partnership, contact Lynn Stravino, director of academic service-learning and liaison for the partnership, at 718-990-7902 [email protected]. To learn more about the Cristo Rey Network, visit

To find other ways to engage with students on and around campus, visit the Employee-Student Engagement web page.