Student Volunteer Activists are Giving Back on their own, inspired by the service learning tradition

Student Volunteer Activists are Giving Back on their own, inspired by the service learning tradition

It’s a gloomy day in April at Fairfield Beach. The sun is attempting to come out, the damp gusts are barely tolerable and the caps of the waves are a daunting white.

Josue Jorge ’17 doesn’t seem to notice the ominous weather, however. The Fairfield University sophomore, a resident assistant in Jogues Hall, walks towards the beach with a herd of students from the dorm, all sporting smiles and sunny dispositions.

As the students walk, they casually pick up litter along the sidewalk, as if it’s something they’re used to doing. And it is in fact.

Jorge and his residents are part of a growing number of students involved in volunteer activism on campus and in the Fairfield community.

Community engagement is a fundamental value in Jesuit education, and plays a major role in the Fairfield student experience. There are academically recognized service –learning courses, where teaching literacy or helping to build houses is incorporated into an academic program — an experiential approach to teaching that links academic study with hands-on experience of the world’s challenges.

And increasingly, students are assuming responsibility for volunteer projects all on their own, not just as part of official University programs, but inspired by that tradition.
Jorge’s projects are one example, leading student beach cleanup programs and volunteering at local hospitals. “As an RA, I am in a position to create my own themed programs that can potentially act as great opportunities for residents to serve the community,” said Jorge. “Realizing that I was in a position to have this kind of influence was one of my biggest motivators.”

In his short time at Fairfield, he has organized beach and park cleanups, and volunteer programs at Bridgeport Hospital and Golden Hill Retirement Home. He created an event called “Roadrunner Dinner,” where he challenged students to make 60 burritos and two trays of brownies and deliver it all to Prospect House, a homeless shelter in Bridgeport, in under two hours. He’s also a member of the Fairfield University Student Association (FUSA).

“It’s important for Fairfield students to be a positive part of the community because it helps shape them into conscious individuals,” he said. “The world cannot run off of self-centered people. It needs well-rounded and compassionate individuals who contribute to society as a whole.”

Brenna Visiglio ’17, was motivated to take a leadership role as a volunteer for more personal reasons.

“My youngest brother was born with leukemia,” she explained. “The first couple years of his life were very difficult for him. Cancer is such a heartbreaking disease and sometimes you feel so helpless.”

In addition to her brother, she named two of her cousins, her aunt, her grandfather, and many close, personal friends who have also battled the disease.

Visiglio wanted to make an impact and channeled her effort toward Love Your Melon (LYM), a non-profit organization that raises money for cancer research, and donates hats to children battling cancer in the United States through its buy-one, give-one program. For every piece of LYM merchandise sold, a hat is given to a child battling the disease by an LYM college ambassador. The ambassadors, dressed as superheroes during donation events at local hospitals, give away each hat personally and create a therapeutic experience for children undergoing treatment.

“Love Your Melon gives people the opportunity to see the difference they are making. At donation events at hospitals, you get to see the children’s faces light up with joy. There’s nothing like it,” Visiglio said.

Love Your Melon is on dozens of campuses across the country and Visiglio and her roommate, Lauren Ruffo ’17, are both members of the Fairfield University Chapter.

“I feel so connected to every single person because we all share the same desire to give back to cancer patients in need,” she said. “I know I’m not alone when I say there is nothing quite like seeing a smile on someone else’s face because of your actions.”

As a member of the varsity volleyball team, Lindsay Weaver’s schedule didn’t leave much time for anything else. But when the season ended last December, it opened up time for the senior to look for spring internships. After some research of her own, she found a marketing and communications internship with the Alzheimer’s Association Connecticut Chapter (AACT).

Weaver worked tirelessly to raise awareness for Alzheimer’s disease. She built and maintained relationships with event sponsors through e-mail and web-based marketing, and helped organize, support and execute community awareness initiatives. Additionally, Weaver supervised and managed their social media platforms.

“I’ve always had a passion for helping and caring for others in any way I can. I’ve had jobs in the past during summers that made me feel as if I had no purpose and they were incredibly unrewarding, so when this opportunity arose I couldn’t help but be excited to start working for AACT.”

Weaver said volunteering helped her feel at home. Growing up in Colorado Springs, Colo., Weaver often felt too far from home and thought about transferring to be closer to her family. But, she said, her experience at AACT helped her develop as a person and allowed her to realize her passion.

“Being a senior gives me a blissful clarity for my future and I won’t settle for anything else,” she said. “I never gave up on Fairfield University and it never gave up on me. Staying here was the best decision I ever made.”

Visiglio echoed that sentiment, and added benefit to being involved in a charitable activity is that it also seems to put the stresses of University life in perspective.

“As university students, we are constantly planning our next move,” said Visiglio. “We’re forced to pick a major to ultimately determine what we will be doing for the rest of our lives. Getting involved with service is a great way to live in the moment and be thankful.”