Students spend fall break giving back



Deanna Passaretti


During fall break, hundreds of Villanova students embarked on service trips through Campus Ministry to 16 locations across the country and the world to improve lives within the communities in which they stayed.  

There were 225 participants in total, with 32 acting as student leaders and 18 as adult advisors.  This year, 16 destinations were scheduled. Because of Hurricane Matthew, the group headed to Marion, SC Habitat group stayed in Philadelphia instead, according to Catherine Giancatarino of Campus Ministry.  All partner sites are ones that the University has a standing relationship with the exception of the Marion group that had to switch to the Augustinian Defenders of Poor in Philadelphia.  The 16 groups that served this year were one-third fewer than the amount last fall, but Giancatarino says Campus Ministry is working to create more connections with community partners in the future.  

The University offers Service and Justice Experience trips for both fall and spring break and students, faculty and alumni can work to improve the lives of impoverished people in their communities.  

Group sizes ranged from 10 to 18 students, and locations were as close as Philadelphia.  Students had the opportunity to take part in several types of Service and Justice Experiences.  Some trips were through Habitat for Humanity in which students worked as a group to build a home, while others were more focused on developing education and recreation resources in impoverished communities.  

“It is a way for students and the Villanova community to stay connected to our mission,” Giancatarino said.  “They allow us, in a tangible way, to continue the work of St. Thomas of Villanova.”  

“I wanted to use my break to serve others in an impactful way rather than go home for the week like I had done in the past,” junior Kristen Michael said.  She decided to participate in her first break trip this fall break through Habitat for Humanity.  Her group volunteered with the Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County in Winston-Salem, N.C. to help the construction team build homes for three days.  Her group also worked at their ReStore site for one day, helping to transport inventory from warehouses to the store.  

“I truly felt like I had made connections with those on the Habitat team, as well as with the 15 fellow amazing Villanovans I served alongside,” she said.  Students on the Winston-Salem trip stayed in a new volunteer lodge and used Villanova vans to travel to and from the work site each day.  People in the Winston-Salem community made the students dinner, and a local Villanova alum hosted the group for dinner one night as well.   

These service trips are sponsored by Campus Ministry and are available to students of all grade levels at the University.  Students also have the opportunity to serve as Service and Justice Experience student leaders in their junior or senior years after participating in at least one trip.  Student leaders facilitate in maintaining contact with the site, selecting group members, working with their advisors, planning group meetings, enforcing safety and insuring that all paperwork is complete.  

“I led my first Service and Justice Experience in the fall of my junior year to Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic,” senior student leader Claire Liva said.  “I had such an incredible experience that I applied to lead one more time this past fall.”  Liva went to Fort Smith, Arkansas with a group of 13 students and one advisor.  She felt it was important to give back and learn about different communities, which she has been able to do on her multiple service trips to Belize City, Belize, Mandeville, La., Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic and most recently Fort Smith.  

“I find that the communities I have served changed my life more than I thought was possible,” she said.  Liva has experienced multiple types of Service Justice Experiences, embarking on both Habitat for Humanity trips and trips to teach English to Spanish-speaking youth in other countries.  

In the past, the University has modified these trips to best serve the hardships of the times, like in 2015 when service groups travelled to areas impacted by immigration.  Some groups have also travelled to locations affected by natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

Campus Ministry offers need-based funding to applicants through the Father Ray Jackson Memorial Fund and the Elizabeth Durham Fund.  The cost of every trip varies but includes transportation, food and lodging for all participants.