Courtesy of St. John’s University

Students Combine Reflection with Good Work on Spring Plunges

“It’s Vincentian Service, reflecting Catholic Social Teaching. Our focus is transformation—for ourselves, and the world.” Fr. Tri Duong, CM.

As a freshman, Andrea Lozano ’20CPS is still new to college life. But she is already rethinking the future, thanks to a five-day service trip she took during spring break through St. John’s University.

“It was very inspiring,” said Andrea, a criminal justice major at SJU’s Staten Island campus. “I’ve been thinking about law school for a while—now I’m interested in social justice law, something that really helps people.”

Changing lives is an aim of SJU’s Plunge Program. The nine, weeklong service trips, offered through Campus Ministry draw students throughout the academic year. They work in soup kitchens, mentor children, paint schools, and repair homes, among other activities. “It’s more than charity,” said Rev. Tri M. Duong, C.M., Campus Minister and the program’s coordinator. “It’s Vincentian Service, reflecting Catholic Social Teaching. Our focus is transformation—for ourselves, and the world.”

Going Where the Need Is

“Reflection is a big part of the experience,” said Sr. Patricia Evanick, D.C., Campus Minister for Vincentian Service. “At the end of each day, we discuss what we did, the ways we encounter God in the act of service, and in those we serve.” Plunges, Sr. Pat added, are organized in partnership “with elements of the Vincentian family—like the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Daughters of Charity, which offer services in the cities and neighborhoods we visit.”

For five days, Andrea joined nine other students on the Los Angeles Plunge.  Victoria O’Keefe ’13CPS, ’15MA, a Resident Minister at the Queens campus, led the group along with a graduate assistant. They stayed at the Cardinal Manning Center, a downtown shelter run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, serving meals, handing out food to homeless people on Skid Row, and volunteering at Maryvale, a Daughters of Charity home for at-risk youth.

The Los Angeles Plunge was one of three offered during spring break, February 25 to March 4.  Sr. Evanick and a graduate assistant accompanied 10 students to Macon, GA, and Campus Minister Megan Fraino led 10 students to Denver, CO. Another group served in Philadelphia In January. This May, plunges are scheduled for Niagara Falls, NY; Panama; Philadelphia; and Lourdes, France. Campus Ministry also offers the Rendu Freshman Service Experience every August.

The Lifelong Impact of Service

The Division of Student Affairs also sponsors an annual spring break service trip. In February, 13 student leaders volunteered at the Give Kids the World Village, a nonprofit Florida resort where children with life-threatening illnesses enjoy cost-free vacations with their families. Mary Pelkowski, Associate Dean for Student Engagement, and Jennifer Leaverton, Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach, accompanied them.

“I continue to be proud of, and amazed by, the wonderful service our students provide to our community partners,” said Kathryn Hutchinson, Ph.D., Vice President for Student Affairs. “These experiences provide an opportunity for our students to live out the Vincentian mission and truly impact the way students embrace our mission for the rest of their lives.”

Students do “feel different” after returning from a service trip, said Anthony Spring ’20CPS, who participated in the Denver Plunge. “It was amazing—something I’ll always remember,” he said.  Another student, Lucy Holmes-Higgin ’17CPS, said the same of her service trip to Give Kids the World Village. “The experience was indescribable,” she said. “I was honored to be part of it.”