Ozanam Scholars Program Helps Students Examine Global Role

November 20, 2019

Undergraduate students who receive an Ozanam Scholarship participate in one of the University’s most mission-centered programs.

“In the spirit of Frédéric Ozanam, scholars are called to serve with intention,” said Jane Barry, Associate Director of Academic Service-Learning.

“To do so responsibly, they work with community leaders and faculty members to understand the root causes of poverty and seek practical solutions.”

As part of the program, first-year scholars have traveled to Puerto Rico to participate in service for nearly a decade. This year’s cohort devoted more than 40 hours working at nine sites throughout Puerto Rico, while also working with faculty at San Juan’s Universidad Sagrado Corazón to think through the socio-political status of the island, focusing on the ways in which nonprofit partners approach social justice issues, and on how local communities work collectively to make change and foster social uplift.

One local partner, the Iniciativa Comunitaria, addresses homelessness, food insecurity, and drug abuse with a “human face” by maintaining authentic, consistent relationships with clients in the communities they serve. Their embedded, relationship-based approach to uplifting clients was essential to helping scholars understand how they might also make change in other communities.

For Jackson Stephenson, a student in St. John’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the trip reinforced his sense that each community is its own best advocate. His reflection took particular note of Puerto Rico’s status within the US. “Community members throw themselves behind Puerto Rico in any way they can,” he wrote, “attempting to alleviate social justice issues that tend to result from the US rule.”

Queens native Mikesha Withanachchi, also a St. John’s College student, shared a similar experience, finding that “everyone working at the service sites focused on inspiring their communities to get back on their feet,” with an emphasis on “sharing the joy” that came from making collective change.

“It is essential for scholars to work hand-in-hand with community organizations to participate in sustainable service efforts,” said Carline Bennett, Director of the Ozanam Scholars program. She also noted that this year’s group encountered communities still strongly affected by a lack of basic services created by Hurricane Maria, which have been exacerbated by ongoing political challenges on the mainland and in Puerto Rico.