After a full year of planning, more than 200 members of the St. John’s University community left campus on Sept. 28 to participate in the first annual Service Day.
The theme of the day, “What a Difference a Day Can Make,” brought students, faculty, alumni and other staff members together to help those in need.
Volunteers from the Queens Campus were sent to one of eight sites including Our Lady of the Presentation Parish, Chapin Nursing Home and St. Margaret’s Parish School. The Staten Island Campus also participated in Service Day by visiting three sites, and the Manhattan Campus visited one.
Volunteers painted classroom chairs, fixed damaged ceilings and talked with the elderly. Groups such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society and Community Relations made sandwiches that were distributed to the homeless in New York City.
Team leaders and students worked hard to renovate a church basement.
“The basement of the rectory, which is used for meeting rooms, storage and pantries, is in a lot of disrepair,” said Pat Tracy, a campus minister, who volunteered at Our Lady of the Presentation Parish. “We’ll be helping to repair walls and damaged ceilings with plywood and plaster board and then we’ll be painting.”
The participants were excited about the events from the beginning.
“Everybody I asked if they would be willing to donate their time, they were pretty much yes right away,” said Bernard Rencher, coordinator of student-athlete academic support and team leader of the alumni volunteers. “There wasn’t too much of a problem.”
Students said they enjoyed spending time with those they helped and found it to be a positive experience.
“I’ve been talking to one of
the elderly friends I’ve just made and we’ve been painting and just talking about stuff, how it was back then,” said freshman Athrath Khan, a volunteer at the Chapin Nursing Home.
“This was my first time volunteering and it was the greatest experience I had,” said freshman Linda Lin. “The people really helped me a lot. They really cooperate with you and collaborate.”
Most of the participants said they volunteered in order to give back to those who have given to them.
“I think that you have to give, and you have to take, from the community,” said Varsity Club member Ralph Addonizio, who graduated from SJU in January of 1969.
“I think that’s what makes it vibrant, and we’ll give back to the community in any way we have the ability to give back,” he said.
Mary Anne Dantuono, associate director for the Vincentian Center for Church and Society, was happy with “What a Difference a Day Makes,” which exceeded the goal of volunteers by almost 100 people.
“I was pleased with the number of people who came out to serve [and] with the level of enthusiasm and dedication that they exhibited,” she said.
The Service Day idea began through the University Service Opportunity Council, which is made up of the various campus groups that perform community service.
“We all get together maybe every other month to just kind of network service needs and promote service on campus,” Dauntono said. “So, one of the ideas that came up was the idea for a University service day.” That was two years ago.
When the idea came up a second time, the council began to study what others schools, such as Notre Dame, did in order to begin a service day at St. John’s.
According to Dantuono, September was chosen for two reasons. One was to coincide with the feast of St. Vincent de Paul.
“The second reason was that we thought if people got excited about doing service in September, then maybe that would carry on throughout the year,” she said.