NU students extend their service in Philadelphia
Hundreds of men shuffle through a small doorway. They walk into a warm room after being in the cold, winter air. They are hungry. Staff, including Niagara University students, were expecting them and they are ready to serve them.
This scene can be described as a day at Saint John's Hospice, a shelter and soup kitchen for homeless men run by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
Saint John's Hospice is one of the sites where nine NU students and NU Campus Minister Kristina Schliesman served the poor in the Germantown area of Philadelphia for a week in January.
While at St. John's Hospice, sophomore biology student Kristina Foderaro refilled water pitchers and removed trays during lunch.
"I didn't feel like I was doing a whole lot, but someone approached me and told me that he was glad I was there and that I was doing a good job. That really struck a chord with me," Foderaro says.
Foderaro and her student peers become involved with helping others in Philadelphia after applying to participate in the NU Campus Ministry program Brothers and Sisters in Christ.
Campus Minister Monica Saltarelli says BASIC provides an opportunity for NU students to become aware of the Vincentian mission of serving the poor, beyond NU.
Schliesman says, "Everyone was on the trip for the right reason - to serve the poor, to make a difference."
The BASIC group stayed at the St.Vincent DePaul Young Adult Center with co-director and daughter of charity Sister Patricia Evanick.
The center is used by college students, including those from Vincentian schools such as St. Johns University and DePaul University, high school students and anyone else interested in doing service.
Weekday activities consisted of morning reflection, volunteering at a site, helping students at Beacon (an after-school program at The DePaul Catholic School), dinner and an evening reflection, which was followed by free time.
Meals were shared in order to provide a "time of community," says Evanick.
Rosalie Ferrari, an NU senior biology student, says, "Too often, life gets insanely busy and there's barely enough time to think, but in Philly every night we had time to relax, reflect, and learn about how each day affected each of us."
Patrick McKenzie, campus minister/service coordinator for The DePaul Catholic School, says it is "incredibly important" to have volunteers help at Beacon. He says that the students are able to receive help with their work, as well as meet new people from different places, such as NU.
McKenzie says Beacon provides volunteers with the opportunity to really get to know the students as individuals.
"That's when you realize that not only are you serving them, but they are serving you," he says.
The NU BASIC students also volunteered with Mercy Neighborhood Ministries Adult Day Program. This program includes a personalized care plan, nursing and special services, healthy meals and wellness activities for those 60 and older with health problems and/or disabilities.
The Adult Day Program activities coordinator, Barbara Willis-Powll, says, the purpose of the program is "to improve the quality of life of individuals with functional impairment." NU students joined the participants in morning exercises and playing games.
NU junior biology student Hannah Marchese was particularly affected by one of the participants. Maria, who could not hear or speak, was able to participate in activities, such as playing Bingo.
"When someone at her table had the correct card, she would automatically wave her arms and cheer. ... I learned that happiness can come in the most basic parts of the day," says Marchese.
Another site the BASIC group volunteered at was The Whosoever Gospel Mission, which is a treatment program for men who have previously been incarcerated or are overcoming issues with drugs and alcohol.
Heather Rice, executive assistant/program coordinator of the Whosoever Gospel Mission, says the organization works to "share the love of God in word and deed with the homeless men who come to the mission through meals, shelter, clothing, counseling, chapel services, professional and vocational development and life skills instruction." NU students helped sort through boxes and bags of donated goods at a thrift store owned by the Whosoever Gospel Mission.
Inn Dwelling is a program directed by Vincentian Brother Al Smith, which involves the rehabilitation of homes in the Germantown area.
Most of the students worked to replace windows, while others did plumbing and cement work.
"I had never done any sort of home repair like that before, and I was pretty intimidated by the idea of it all. But, the man we worked with, Paul, was such a good teacher. It was fun to learn with him and watch him work," Schliesman says.
Paul told the students his story about how he overcame dealing drugs and started a new life with his family.
Schliesman says one lesson to learn from Paul's story is, "it is never too late to make the right decision."
In addition to volunteering at service sites, the NU group visited St. Catherine's, an infirmary and retirement residence for Vincentian priests and brothers.
The students also visited the Miraculous Medal Shrine, where they learned about the history of St. Catherine LabourÃ©, her encounter with the Virgin Mary and the miraculous medal.
Those in the BASIC group also had free time in downtown Philadelphia. They visited The Philadelphia art museum, Jim's Steaks and South Street.
In the end, Schliesman says the students "made" her experience. "It was really cool to watch nine strangers from different backgrounds, different majors, different beliefs, different friend groups all bond together so well. We left NU as strangers and returned as family. God was definitely at work in our group, in each of our hearts."