In Uncertain Times, Alumni Reassured They Can Count on St. John’s

Two female students on the telephone in a call center
April 6, 2020

With the world in the midst of an unprecedented health crisis, students employed at St. John’s Phonathon Call Center are reaching out from their homes to check on the well-being of the University community’s most vulnerable population—older alumni.

When St. John’s University transitioned to a remote workplace due to the coronavirus, courses were moved to an online learning model and administrative offices transitioned to a fully remote workforce. Student workers who normally worked in the University Center’s Call Center were eager to contribute, as well.   

“We wanted to create meaningful ways for our student workers to continue their important work, no matter their location,” said Donald S. McKay, Assistant Director, Annual Giving, Office of Advancement. “By giving them all Skype accounts, we were able to re-create the work of the Call Center remotely.”

While student workers participating in the Phonathon typically reach out to alumni and friends of St. John’s seeking gifts to support scholarships and the University’s highest priorities, the decision was made to have them shift gears and perform wellness checks.

“St. John’s is a community of caring, whether you are a current student, or someone who graduated 50 years ago. Rather than calling to ask alumni for a donation, they call to ensure our alumni are safe and healthy—and to see if there is any way in which St. John’s can help them,” Mr. McKay added, explaining that the team of nine callers makes approximately 250 calls per day. “For the most part, those they speak to are safe and pleased to talk with someone from St. John’s.”

Targeting graduates from the 1970s and prior years, the calls are very well received. When given the option of receiving a follow-up call, more than 40 percent of alumni say yes. There are plans to add additional remote student callers to expand the effort.

“It is important for us, as students, to take the time to check in on those individuals who have supported St. John’s for years and help the University grow,” remarked Darian Lee Cruz, a graduate student from Northampton, PA, in the Speech-Language Pathology program.

According to Brooke Barrett, a Criminal Justice major from Merrick, NY, the response from the alumni she has contacted has been overwhelmingly positive.

Brooke spoke with an alumnus last week and heard that she was doing well under the circumstances.

“She said she was staying at home with her husband and keeping busy by doing household chores and watching television,” Brooke said. “She has enough food and supplies, and while she does not need anything from St. John’s right now, she asked me, specifically, to check in on her.”

Brooke continued, “She really appreciated the call and started tearing up. She explained to me that it was because there are still good people in the world. I see firsthand that once you are a Johnny, you are a Johnny for life.”