Offering its students opportunities to serve others is a key component of education at St. Joseph’s University, located on City Line Avenue at 56th Street in Wynnefield.
One organization at St. Joe’s that offers students opportunities to serve others is housed in The Wolfington Center for Ministry, Faith and Service. The Office of Campus Ministries assists students in growing their faith, beliefs and talents.
Beth Ford, 36, is the associate director of campus ministry at the university. As an alumna of the school, she said it does not matter what faith students are apart of as long as they identify with common faith morals.
“Many faith traditions value service and it could be a great opportunity to come together, serve together and then dialogue about the different nature of their faith tradition in terms of service,” Ford said.
As a Roman Catholic school, Ford’s role at St. Joe’s is to help students grow in their spiritual life. Her duties as a director include overseeing student volunteers with their community service.
Campus ministry has over 20 weekly community service partnerships in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ. The ministry’s service opportunity requests that students commit to ten weeks of service, one day a week.
“I would say our mission is to support students in their faith journey and helping them grow in their awareness of a relationship to God and to be able to express that relationship in the form of prayer and community service and worship.
The service partnerships range from homelessness and huger to disability services, youth mentoring and prison outreach. Noted partnership are the after-school-care program at the Samuel Gompers Elementary School and the Special Olympics where students serve as mentors.
Ford said recruiting students starts with a service fair at the beginning of each semester. She said recruiting students by a Facebook page, in residence halls, posting flyers on campus and through the help of her staff has been a success.
For the weekly service, Ford admitted that she relies heavily on her student staff workers and peer recruitment.
One of the challenges Ford initially faced as an associate director was maintaining the existing service partnerships while also finding new ones.
Ford said that there are criteria she uses to determine new service partnerships. One is that the she tries to serve places where there is a desperate need for volunteers.
“I look for places that are supportive of volunteers and do a good job of making sure our students know what they’re doing, that they feel comfortable and that they give them meaningful work to do,” Ford said. “ Then this helps the students in their discussion and reflection of the deepen meaning of the work their doing.”
She also said that most times the places that are in dire need of help are after-school programs.
Among the students in Ford’s program, one popular service opportunity is the after-care program at the Samuel Gompers elementary school, located a few blocks from St. Joe’s campus.
Directed by the United Parents for Successful Children organization, this collaboration with campus ministry gives St. Jospeh’s students a hands-on opportunity to serve the Wynnefield community.
Noel Toney, 27, is the assistant director of the organization and mentioned she appreciated the volunteers coming in every week.
“When they come in they are each assigned a child. They help them with homework and then after the homework is complete, checked and signed by staff, they go outside with the children or go the gym to do recreational activity,” Toney said.
Gompers elementary was set be one of the 37 schools listed late last year for closing by Philadelphia School District officials but has since been removed from the closure list.
Margaret Tonner, a freshman at St. Joseph’s, said she comes to Gompers every Monday and reacted sadly when she heard the news of the scheduled closing.
“So there’s no way these children are going to get the attention and assistance they need to best learn?” Tonner said. “I’m really excited Gompers isn’t closing and we’ll continue to have this great experience to work with them .”
Minutes away from St. Joseph’s, students expressed the convenience of Gompers.
Brad Bautista, 19, is a freshman actuary science major at St. Joseph’s and said he stumbled upon community service once he got to college.
“In high school I never really did community service but I was walking through the weekly service kickoff and something about it just really enticed me,” Bautista said.
Bautista became a student leader this semester and said he mainly focused on Gompers because it is within walking distance of his class.
There are about 40 students who attend after-care at Gompers. After-care students range from kindergarten to seventh-grade.
Dior Seidle, 13, is a seventh-grader at Harambe Charter School and said her mother has kept her in after-care at Gompers since she was in kindergarten.
“They don’t just teach us just homework, but they also show us how to be more responsible,” Seidle said. “They make sure that were on top of our game and that we know what were doing. They do little projects with us, like educational games they make up.”
Symir Austin, 11, a fifth-grader also said he enjoys coming because he likes the activities.
“I like aftercare because it where we can do our homework and we can have fun afterward so its not like we just doing our homework and then boring stuff,” Austin said.
Raven Gilmore 32, is the parent of a 5-year-old and mentioned that her work schedule does not permit her to help her daughter with homework so the students are a big help to her.