Spring Break Service “Transforms” SJU Students
Produced by: Office of Marketing and Communications
For 39 students at St. John’s this semester, spring break proved the perfect time to put the University’s Vincentian values into action by immersing themselves in uninterrupted service at sites around the country. Sponsored by the Division of Student Affairs and Campus Ministry, the activities offered the undergraduates an opportunity to reflect on their faith, gain real-world experience, and find meaning through helping those in need.
Thirteen students traveled to Give Kids the World, a 79-acre nonprofit resort in Central Florida that provides weeklong, cost-free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families. A special guest this spring break was Safyre Terry, an 8-year-old girl whose entire family was killed in a fire in May of 2013. She was hosted by Give Kids the World after her 2015 request for people to send her Christmas cards went viral. The St. John’s students presented Terry with Christmas cards from the University community with messages of encouragement.
Mary H. Pelkowski, Associate Dean for Student Engagement, Division of Student Affairs, participated in the visit to Give Kids the World. “For the past nine years,” she said, “I’ve had the humbling experience of joining SJU students on service trips that are truly life changing. The journeys reinforce the message that time is precious, and life is a gift.”
"It’s impossible to walk away from Give Kids the World unchanged,” said Kezia Harris ’17TCB. “In just one week, I learned so much from the children, families, and the spirit of the village. I've been challenged to be thankful for the time that I have, and I feel obligated to love others more freely and unconditionally.”
The St. John’s Plunge Program, offered through the Office of University Ministry, emphasizes service, reflection and prayer, community building, and living simply. Twenty-six students participated in Los Angeles, CA; Denver, CO; and Greensboro, NC. Working and living within and among Vincentian communities, they learn and grow in love for those in need. “Participating in service offers students the opportunity to be transformed by their encounters,” said Angela Seegel, Director of Vincentian Service. “There are many moments when they come to reflect and pray about being called to love God's most vulnerable. This is the heart of Vincentian service, the beautiful way we educate our students."
In Los Angeles, 10 students stayed for one week at the St. Vincent de Paul Society in the city’s Skid Row district. They partnered with Daughters of Charity and St. Vincent’s Meals on Wheels to care for the hungry. “I couldn’t believe how many homeless people I saw on the streets,” said Celeste Najera ’18Ed. “I served them food, heard their stories, and witnessed their resilience.” She added, “I saw Jesus’s face in everyone.”
Eleven students in the Denver group stayed at Casa Karibu, a hospitality house located downtown. Highlights included helping at sites such as Food Bank of the Rockies—a warehouse that provides food at low cost to distributors and agencies that feed the hungry; S.A.M.E. Café (So All May Eat)—a nonprofit café where patrons pay what they can or work in exchange for a meal; and Metro Caring—an emergency assistance food pantry.
In North Carolina, five students resided in St. Mary’s Catholic Church for the week. They worked at a variety of service sites, including a soup kitchen, a nursing home, and a child day care center. Partnering with local Vincentian priests with connections to the agencies, the students also led a youth retreat on behalf of St. Mary’s parish. “Catholic means universal,” noted Rose Haslbauer ’18C, “and this plunge helped me more fully understand how people of all ages and cultures can join together through faith, love, and service.”