Passionate about community service

St. Johns University, Queens Campus, has a mission not just to give students an education but to engage them in service experiences, so says Dr. Pamela Shea-Byrnes, vice president, University Ministry & University Events. As a result, many of their students have committed themselves to helping in their communities and beyond, through various charities at home and abroad.

Take for example 23-year-old Kandy Serrant who hails from Trinidad. Serrant became involved in Midnight Run, an organization that includes volunteers from schools, churches, synagogues and other groups that distribute food and clothing, etc. to homeless people in New York City at night. Serrant takes the time to urge others on and off campus to get involved and support this program.

Prior to her involvement with Midnight Run she has volunteered with STAND, an organization in which students help to raise awareness about the genocide in Darfur through various activities such as distribution of T-shirts (with some mention of Darfur) as well as movie nights and other forums where guest speakers are invited to share information about that crisis. All of these efforts pointing to sources where people can make donations.

Serrant whose graduate degree is International Communications and has a bachelor’s degree in journalism said, “I want my university experience not just to be about education. I am drawn to humanitarian work and I would like it to be an integral part of my career. I want to make a difference in the community at large and abroad and the university makes it very easy to get involved.”

Byrnes points out that the university wants to engage students in service activities and one of the ways they achieve this success is by helping people around them. Byrnes said, “Kandy Serrant is an extraordinary young woman, a credit to her family and to the values of scholarship and service that St. Johns hold so dear. The students at the university live and breathe service. Service is a key part of who we are inside and outside of class.

“The heart of what makes us different is that we don’t live in this world alone and must respond to the needy in the world, not just because it is a good thing to do, but because it is our obligation. St. Johns is one of the most diverse campuses but yet very harmonious, partly because of the emphasis on service but also because of our kindness to each other and kindness to those around us who need servicing.”

Just six months ago, Jordan Powell and Cedric Milton, students at St. Johns University, decided to start a charity called “More Than Caring Foundation.” Powell said, “I was frustrated by all the bad stuff in the world and wanted to do something good to help make a change. It doesn’t require much money or time to make a difference in someone’s life. I didn’t realize how cheap it is to do something as simple as collecting bottles from the residence hall, turning them in for cash and using the funds to help the homeless found at bus shelters and train stations in Manhattan with food and clothing.” This group wears T-shirts with the name of their organization throughout the process in order to help get the word out, inviting everyone to participate in all their fund-raising activities.

Students from Professor Jane Paley’s class are also involved in helping in their community. Paley teaches a Public Relations Campaign class and each semester they choose a non-profit charity with which to work and currently they are working with the Midnight Run program.

Paley said, “Students are provided with the ingredients to prepare sandwiches and other snacks for their ‘midnight run’ and the preparation time becomes a good bonding experience for them; they really do have a passion for philanthropy. They volunteer for a seat on the van that takes them into the city to hand out food and clothing and the van is always fully booked in advance. They enjoy talking and giving human companionship (albeit for a short period of time) to the people they help, and they always come away from the experience feeling a sense of fulfillment and gratitude knowing that they could be that homeless person.”

Caitlin Conklin, another St. Johns University student who is passionate about helping others, has volunteered at Little Sisters of the Assumption in East Harlem, a non-profit organization. Their family based programs help those who need food, pregnant mothers with various needs, as well as providing English and Spanish classes for people looking to learn or improve their ability to speak and understand these languages. She has also given her time at the Bread and Life soup kitchen in Brooklyn.

Conklin is president of the student run Ozanam Society, which among other things, raises funds for an orphanage in Uruguay. The funds are specifically earmarked for kids with cleft palets and their fund-raising efforts include bake sales and raffles.

More from Around NYC