Day of Service sees record number of participants



Daina Amorosano

For this year’s 4,500 Day of Service participants –– the majority of whom were students –– sleeping in on Saturday was not an option. Instead, student, faculty, staff and alumni participants convened in the Pavilion early in the morning before dispersing to 182 service sites throughout the greater Philadelphia area.

With an increase of 500 participants from last year, the numbers reflect a nearly fourfold increase from the 1,200 participants who partook in 35 sites during the first Day of Service and the highest level of participation in this event since its inception in 2006, according to Assistant to the President for Internal and External Affairs Christopher Kovolski. 

The event, which is the largest of the multi-day St. Thomas of Villanova Celebration, also saw the addition of 70 service sites, corporate sponsorship and a Community Collection Day, which took place on Friday. Participants broke into about 250 groups, 200 of which were composed of students, according to Kovolski, and traveled to sites such as the Philadelphia Zoo, the Ronald McDonald House as well as churches and nursing homes.

At the service site at Freedom Foundation in Valley Forge, a veterans memorial, volunteers landscaped the grounds and memorials. Since the Day of Service fell on the anniversary of 9/11 this year, service site leader and Villanova graduate student Jimmy Legee felt that service there was especially important. The service sites this year were a mix of old agencies and partnerships with new ones that the University reached out to, according to Kovolski. 

The Day of Service Committee consolidated some of the smaller groups to send them to the same service sites, but the additional service sites offered much smaller group experiences for participants.

“It was common for groups of six to 20 members to serve at different sites,” Kovolski said. “In years past, we served at big service sites –– we’d send hundreds to Fairmont Park, for example.”

However, the increased participation and number of service sites meant that people could no longer pick where they wanted to serve.

“With the number of participants this year, we had to assign service sites,” Kovolski said. “Assignments were sent out during the week of the event. People were understanding and realized that it wasn’t about what they wanted to do.”

Costs and obligations also increase as participation grows, so this year the University actively pursued corporate sponsors, according to Kovolski.

“To meet the needs of service partners, though we receive some discounts, there’s a very real cost,” Kovolski said. 

But vendors and companies with alumni executives were willing to support the cause and provided items such as the Day of Service T-shirts and Coca-Cola products, support that enabled the University to allocate financial resources for supplies. 

By the numbers, this year’s Day of Service was the most successful to date, according to Kovolski. Fourteen alumni chapters also had service projects nationwide.

“But we don’t define success by the numbers alone,” he said. “It’s a good indication, but our measure of success is more about when groups go back –– when they establish relationships that go beyond the day.”

This year’s St. Thomas of Villanova Celebration was a good model, according to Kovolski.

“As we look at how the celebration has evolved, we’ve found a good recipe for how it fits together,” Kovolski said.

The celebration began with a lecture on Sept. 9 and continued with the Community Collection Day on Friday, the Day of Service itself and community dinner on Saturday and the Sunday liturgy. Students donated blankets, towels and non-perishable foods, among other items, to the Community Collection Day, a new component of the celebration.

“We came up with the Community Collection Day as a way to further meet the needs of service sites and reach those who couldn’t partake on Saturday,” Kovolski said.

A follow-up e-mail was sent to Day of Service volunteers on Tuesday to ask for input on their service experience.

“We are always looking for ways to improve,” Kovolski said. “Logistically, we want to make sure the day goes smoothly, improve the registration process and work with the service partners to ensure that there are no surprises for the volunteers.”