St. John’s held its annual University Service Day (USD) on Sept. 24, marking its 15th anniversary.
The USD usually takes place the third or fourth week of September during Founder’s Week in remembrance of Saint Vincent DePaul, whose teachings emphasize respect for the service to the needy, and human solidarity that deeply influences the University’s Vincentian Mission.
Founder’s Week was established in 1995. Originally, it took place during January but since 2012 it has been held during the week of St. Vincent’s death on Sept.27. According to the St. John’s Office of Mission website, an average of over 2,000 volunteers serve over 100 locations throughout New York City annually.
Undergraduates, graduates and alumni had the opportunity to serve the 5 boroughs. More than 65 locations were listed on SJU Mission Service website such as Silver Park Conservatory in Staten Island, St. Jude Walk at Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan, St. Joseph Elementary School in the Bronx and Catholic Charities: Berry Streets in Brooklyn.
After picking up their T-shirts that stated “What A Difference A Day Can Make,” students gathered and departed to their designated locations.
This was the case of sophomore TV and Film major, Jole Colachagua.
Colachagua volunteered with the Latin American Student Organization at St. Mary’s Recreation Center in the Bronx under the program Kids Enjoy Exercises Now (KEEN). KEEN helps kids with disabilities by providing free, non-competitive one-to-one programs of exercise, fitness and fun, led by volunteer coaches.
He was assigned a child named Omar, who he spent the day with. “This was my first experience having real contact with children with special needs,” said Colachagua.
Colachagua explained that after taking Omar to the gym and playing with him, Omar got comfortable and opened up more to him.
“It felt like I was playing with a little brother I always wanted, throwing him a baseball and watching him hit it,” explained Colachagua. “It was a great experience, and I hope Omar appreciated it as much as I did.”
Unlike Colachagua, Jose Galvan volunteered for a second time in a row in KEEN.
“It fills my heart to make kids with special disabilities smile because it shows me to always be gracious for the blessed life I’ve been able to have,” Galvan said. “I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything else.”
Other organizations such as Theta Pi Alpha Sorority, Lambda Pi Chi Sorority Inc. and Lambda Phi Sorority, volunteered on Give Kids the World Village Card Making. Give Kids the World Village is a non- profit organization based in Florida that fulfill the wishes of all children with life-threatening illnesses.
Around 27 volunteers gathered in D’Angelo Center Ballroom to make and write cards.
Lucy Homes-Higgins, the team leader, explained in the introductory orientation that once a kid is in the program, their room is filled with cards from volunteers. The cards can be found over their walls, beds and tables.
Homes-Higgins has participated in two USD’s since she transferred to St. John’s in 2014. She worked with Mary Pelkowski, Associate Dean of Student Engagement, to secure that there were open and available spots to register for USD.
“Service is really close to my heart,” Holmes-Higgins said. “I love what I do.”
Other organizations such as Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and Lambda Theta Alpha Sorority Inc. served at Friends of the Poor Walk in Bethpage, NY, The Whedco Bronx Summer Fest, and St. Jude Walk Brooklyn Bridge in Manhattan.