Day of Service draws 4,300 to serve

Caroline Hroncich

This past weekend, nearly 4,300 University students, faculty and staff, participated in the ninth annual St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service. This day is part of the St. Thomas of Villanova Celebration, a four-day event honoring the University’s patron saint, St. Thomas of Villanova. The day drew 223 groups of volunteers who engaged in service at 140 sites in the greater Philadelphia area. In addition, 16 Villanova alumni chapters from across the country also participated in their respective cities.  

“I think Day of Service really just embodies everything Villanova,” said Michael Fox, the Day of Service student chair. “I think it makes Villanova different from other schools. I think it’s the one day that really brings everyone together as a unified family with a unified goal, and I think that really distinguishes Villanova from other colleges. Everyone’s happy, everyone’s enjoying themselves, everyone’s having fun. It’s really special to see Villanova going out to the other areas around Philly.”

Day of Service began during the inauguration of Rev. Peter M. Donahue, O.S.A., Villanova University President, and has since become an annual occurrence. The event is organized entirely by a student committee consisting of 40 students, along with several faculty and staff members. 

The committee members work for several months to organize Day of Service, coordinating with service sites and student group leaders. 

“More than anything I’m just very grateful to the number of students that participate in this,” Donahue said. “I’m really excited about it, it’s kind of a tradition that has become so much a part of the beginning of the school year, and it’s really wonderful.”

This year, for the first time ever, Villanova University partnered with Lowe’s Home Improvement, which provided all supplies for the volunteer groups and their service sites. Around 90 percent of the sites that participated in the 2013 Day of Service returned to participate in the 2014 event. The University also added several new service sites, including North City Congress, a non-profit organization that helps aging adults in the Greater Philadelphia area remain independent. 

“Partnership is really important to us,” said Christine Quisenberry, assistant to the president for events. “We believe it isn’t just one day, it’s the start of the relationship.” 

According to Quinsenberry, relationships formed through Day of Service have a lasting impact on the Villanova Community. An example, she explained, is North Light Community Center, a center that provides aid to underprivileged families in Philadelphia, and offers weekly trips for Villanova students. This allows students to continue serving after Day of Service has completed. 

“Day of Service allows our students, faculty and staff to recognize the gifts that they have to give, and hopefully the community here participating realizes that they can give those gifts all the time,” Quisenberry said. “We provide a website and a card that gives other ways that you can serve after this day. Hopefully this is a starting point for some people and a continuation for others, if you leave Day of Service and think ‘oh I’ll just wait until next year,’ you missed the point.” 

The St. Thomas of Villanova celebration kicked off on Thursday Sept. 25 with the St. Thomas of Villanova lecture, featuring New York Times best selling author Wes Moore, and ended on Sunday, Sept. 28 with a closing Mass.  

Having Day of Service as the center of the weekend allows students to reflect on the things they learned over the past few days and simultaneously give back to the community. Melissa Eckels, a Villanova University senior who led a group to First Presbyterian Church in Kensington, said that the most important part of being a Day of Service leader is getting people excited about serving, and understanding the impact they’re making. 

“Sometimes we forget to genuinely give back to the community,” Eckels said. “You get caught up in your daily life. But this day is scheduled to give you a chance to give back.”

For Villanova University freshmen Maria Negron, Day of Service provides an exciting continuation of community outreach she has done in the past. 

“I really wanted to do Day of Service,” Negron said. “This summer I went on a service trip to Paraguay and that was awesome, so I really wanted to continue serving. I took Day of Service as an opportunity to continue giving back to the community.”  

According to Quisenberry, this type of continuing community outreach is what Day of Service is all about. 

“I think that the day of service has meaning within the Villanova Community, but outside the community here, I think that this day really increases what caritas is,” she said. “The celebration of that love we’re sharing is a foundation of Villanova, and seeing that in action in one day is pretty impactful.”