Living out the Vincentian Mission
When Dr. Nancy Colodny visited the orphanage Obras Sociales Hermano Pedro in Guatemala, her attention was immediately caught. She volunteered at the site for the first time with her son in 2008, when she noticed that the place needed more from her than what was she was able to do in a week.
“I observed the staff feeding the children rapidly, with large tablespoons while (they were) lying flat in their cribs or reclined their chairs,” Colodny said.
She remembers being struck about the lack of skilled and knowledgeable staff at the orphanage.
St. Vincent de Paul’s beliefs on community service and its importance is common knowledge at St. John’s. The Vincentian Mission is one part of the university that is “highlighted” in different classes and in different ways, some of those being very unique.
Colodny is a great example of such uniqueness. She is an Associate Professor and also the Chair in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Originally from Cohasset, Massachusetts, Colodny have an academic background that includes Teachers College and Columbia University, where she got her Master’s and Doctoral degrees.
With her Master’s of Science in Speech-Language Pathology and being a Doctor of Education in Health Education, Colodny has been a member of St. John’s since 1993, where she started as an adjunct professor and became a full-time professor four years after that.
However, Colodny is not just another great professor with an incredible background – she was able to take the Vincentian Mission of the University to a level that literally goes beyond seas.
“I have returned to Obras Sociales 16 times since my first lunch time visit for education, training and to bring needed supplies,” she said.
Colodny doesn’t go the orphanage on her own. For the last five years, she has brought students along with her for 10 days every May. They assist with the orphanage in various ways such as feeding the infants and children.
Jessica Alves is a graduate student who will be getting her Masters Degree in Speech-Language Pathology this upcoming May. She is one of the 12 students who will be going to Guatemala with Dr. Colodny this year.
“I am excited for this trip,” Alves said, when she recounted how she has had her eyes on this trip since she was only an undergraduate Speech Pathology and Audiology student.
“I heard it’s the experience of a lifetime,” she said. “You can see the appreciation through the families’ smiles, which is so rewarding.”
“This trip is unlike any of the other courses offered in the program because of its medical approach to working with children in an orphanage,” she said.
Alves connected this excitement about the trip to her commitment to service. This is something that started with simply going to Soup Kitchens and Midnight Runs and escalated to heading to, “a whole new country to utilize all of the skills and knowledge” she learned in her classes to serve others.
Colodny and her initiative inspire not only her graduate students, but also those who still have some time before they get the chance to go.
“She had so many stories.” junior Thomas Gallino said. “With every lesson we learned she always had a story about a patient that she would tell us, making the lesson so much easier.”
Gallino mentioned how he can’t wait until he has the chance to live the Guatemala experience himself.
“It really caught my attention and I am looking into possibly going,” he said. “I’m hoping she runs this program again so that I’ll have the opportunity to go with her.”
Alves said how “it is most certainly not easy” to get this far. With hard work one can make it, and she said that it is definitely rewarding.
“It is important to think outside the box and explore settings that speech pathologists work in,” Alves said.
The unique experience Colodny has been able to add to the graduate program along with the office of Academic Service Learning has been beneficial not only for those families in Guatemala, but the students who are part of it.
“Students often make return trips and some have come as alumni,” Colodny said.