2016: Rodrigo Rivera. After coursework on the criminal justice system, Rodrigo Rivera was determined to gain access to serve as a tutor for men at Graterford Prison, a maximum security facility 40 minutes west of campus. Rodrigo has been tutoring weekly throughout his senior year. And in his final semester at Villanova, Rodrigo took on a second weekly commitment at the prison, agreeing to be the facilitator of an experimental discussion group with a group of men incarcerated there. It is rare for an undergraduate to be given such a responsibility, but it is a sign of Rodrigo’s talent, reliability, and his many experiences of serving others. Rodrigo has volunteered at a homeless shelter, assisted with the Villanova Law Clinic program, chaired a Special Olympics committee, and has contributed to a new Hispanic/Latino Outreach group on campus. Rodrigo has served as an intern at the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Regional Office of Catholic Relief Services and at the New York DA’s Office where he got involved in re-entry programming for ex-offenders. We congratulate Rodrigo on his tremendous efforts and his generosity of spirit to make visible the needs of those who are often overlooked.
2015: Patrick K. Williams’ service efforts over his time at Villanova reflected an unwavering dedication to improving and impacting the lives of young children in poor areas. Pat, a key four-year Varsity football player, no matter how busy, always made time to volunteer and give back to the community. Every Thursday, he volunteered at the St. Barnabas Women and Children's Shelter in Philadelphia where he spent time as a positive role model for the kids there. Other student-athletes and Campus Ministry volunteers went to the shelter, but impressively, Pat never missed a week in his four years at Villanova. It was evident how much the kids love Pat and especially how much of an impact he made as a great male figure for many of the children who do not have fathers in their families. Undoubtedly, Patrick Williams makes helping others the priority in his life. Pat's strength, determination to give back, and his commitment to positively impacting the lives of those struggling around him, made him an outstanding recipient of the Mentzer Award. His refreshing perspective, empathy and ability to recognize what specific populations need, reflect the vital work of a role model with a huge heart for the many youth and people experiencing homelessness he encountered.
2014: Ariana Meltzer-Bruhn- Ariana is the founder and driving force behind the Villanova student organization, LEVEL, a group which is dedicated to bridging gaps between differently-abled students both in and out of the classroom. Ariana and LEVEL have made it possible for students of all abilities to be together, not only for studying, but for parties and gatherings, too. For her remarkable efforts to imagine alternatives to the marginalization of those with different abilities, for her work to inspire her peers to expand their understanding of community on campus, and for helping us all to dismantle stereotypes and misconceptions, we honor Ariana Meltzer-Bruhn with the 2014 Thomas J. Mentzer Award.
2013: Jay Tighe - A Villanova Presidential Scholar, Jay Tighe has excelled as an Economics and International Business major. His interest in the international nonprofit sector took him to study abroad in London as a freshman, where he interned at a human rights nonprofit that encourages investments and creates jobs in Africa. Jay studied abroad as a junior in Argentina, where he taught English at a community center
During his time at Villanova University Jay has made it his mission to advocate for people who are living in poverty and on the margins of society. In 2011, he joined a group of Villanova students working to establish the Student-Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia (SREHUP) a student-led non-profit that provides shelter, food, and community to individuals experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia. Jay exhibited unrelenting commitment to this organization and to the people it served. The founding members of SREHUP recognized his dedication and elected Jay to the position of executive director. As executive director of two student run homeless shelters, Jay trained over 200 volunteers in cultural sensitivity and awareness to work with the homeless population.
Jay truly shined when he was at the shelter, providing care and comfort to people who had long been ignored by society. He saw the enormous potential in all guests and worked to help them achieve stability and independence.
Jay’s hands-on work with guests gave him an understanding of the myriad of pathways into homelessness, and the structural barriers in place which make it difficult to climb out of homelessness. Jay could have been content with the work he did to improve the lives of the people in the SREHUP shelters. But rather than rest, he engaged in work to improve the plight of all people living on the streets. He did this by advocating for policy change on issues related to ending homelessness- such as education reform, job creation, and fair housing initiates. In April 2012, Jay attended the prestigious Clinton Global Initiative University Meeting- moderated by President Clinton. CGI U brings together approximately 1,000 students from all over the world, along with nonprofit leaders, entrepreneurs, and celebrities engaged in efforts to create positive change. The three day conference included workshops where Jay learned from world leaders about how to initiate policy change for social justice. Since his trip Jay has worked to provide other students with opportunities to advocate for the poor and marginalized. After graduation, Jay plans to work in international nonprofits to help ensure people have access to clean water, food and health care.
2012: Kristen Valosky - A champion and community advocate for marginalized populations such as those experiencing homelessness and poverty, Kristen Valosky’s service and academic efforts over her time at Villanova reflect not only a lifelong commitment to the pursuit of justice, but an approach which applies an extensive understanding of the core systemic issues related to the complex nature of poverty.
Kristen used the work she did at LIFT Philadelphia (a nonprofit organization and antipoverty movement which meets critical and crisis needs of people who live in poverty) to initiate a productive partnership between LIFT and Villanova’s Sophomore Service Learning Community. After teaching West Philadelphia residents how to write resumes, apply for jobs, find affordable housing, apply for public benefits, and locate agencies for childcare and healthcare, Kristen wanted other students to have a chance to explore their desire to work for more equality of opportunity in the world.
Her Honors senior thesis, entitled “The Criminalization of Homelessness in Chester, PA,” offered another way of expanding opportunities for the poor – by discovering that the growing tourist economy in Chester connected to increased police action towards people experiencing homelessness who occupy public space around the soccer stadium for the Philadelphia Union. With publication, she hopes work like this will begin to change negative perceptions about Chester and other cities like it, and promote more compassion and understanding towards people experiencing homelessness.
Kristen’s other service work during college further reveals her commitment to seek justice for all. She has tutored in an adult literacy program at Urban Bridges, shared meals with the patrons of St. Agatha’s Soup Kitchen, mentored children at schools in Philadelphia and at camps at the Orphanage Outreach Program in the Dominican Republic, constructed a house with the Felder family in Marion, South Carolina, and cheered on York County soccer in Special Olympics. Kristen also tirelessly educates her peers who participate in service through her membership in the Sophomore Service Learning Community and as an active leader in Campus Ministry through Hunger Awareness Week and Water for Waslala.
Her self-defined mission, “engaging in advocacy and community efforts to tackle issues related to urban economic crises,” will continue to be carried out as Kristen studies public interest law at Georgetown University next year. This will allow her to empower people by working on a systemic level while maintaining the personal contact so essential to community formation and necessary for the success of any anti-poverty effort.
2011: Jeffrey Sved - A Chemical Engineering Major with a minor in Theology. Jeff has been a truly remarkable example of commitment to the poor and marginalized. As a model of servant leadership he has worked tirelessly to improve the depth and breadth of everything with which he is involved.
Jeff’s commitment to service and social justice is best reflected in his commitment to the homeless. Since his freshmen year Jeff has been involved with and led weekly trips to both St. Francis Inn and St. Agatha’s soup kitchens in Philadelphia. As a leader he innovated new ways to engage volunteers to support Villanova’s community partner organizations. For example, Jeff built campus partnerships with offices like Dining Services and Athletics to negotiate the legalities required to donate unused food each day, or to set up large scale donation drives during men’s basketball games. Jeff’s t dedication and creativity have spawned countless initiatives and projects that have engaged and benefited the community.
Over the years leading weekly soup kitchen trips, Jeff has always affirmed the dignity and humanity of the guests as friends. He was clever and fearless in sitting down and conversing with the guests during meals. Eventually, he started assigning student volunteers the task in order to get them to step out of their comfort zones and break down artificial social barriers. Jeff’s leadership has not only profoundly impacted student volunteers, but the community as well. Now, one can enter St. Agatha’s and hear the friendly welcomes of “family” as guests approach to greet arriving volunteers. As a direct result of Jeff’s leadership, the University City Hospitality Coalition, which runs St. Agatha’s, has changed its mission statement to include building mutual relationships between guests and volunteers for all of it soup kitchens. All of this is motivated by Jeff’s sincere love of God and neighbor, and the desire to serve and advocate for the poor and marginalized members of our human family.
Jeff has served remarkably in many other capacities on campus: as a Chair of Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, as a member of the Service Learning Community; as a leader in the Service Break Program, as a pioneering member and Leadership Chair of Campus Ministry’s Service Council – a service, social justice, and spirituality leadership formation program. During his senior year Jeff organized the newly reformed Community Outreach of Villanova Steering Committee, which coordinates volunteer leadership development and logistics for Campus Ministry’s weekly service programs.
After graduation Jeff will be serving for two years with Jesuit Volunteer Corps’ International Program in Micronesia, and he is discerning a career working in a field of social justice ministry.
2010: Emily Felesenthal - As the founder of Villanova’s chapter of Invisible Children, a movement seeking to end the war in Northern Uganda, stop the abduction of children as soldiers, and lend essential support through rebuilding schools and providing jobs, Emily Felsenthal’s leadership resulted in significant educational and fundraising efforts and the collection of 23,000 books for Ugandan students. The chapter’s membership now exceeds fifty, and has become in a very short time a flagship chapter among colleges nationally.
On another front, Emily with a handful of friends launched a new restorative justice workshop for inmates at Graterford Prison, a ten week program that is scheduled to begin in the fall. Concurrently, she has been involved in creating a course at Villanova to get more students involved in this restorative justice work.
While in Lima, Peru, she worked in a shelter for mothers and children with HIV/AIDS, and developed a program that used art projects to help the students with their reading, writing, and math skills. Building on that experience and seeking more permanent and institutional support for poor children, Emily founded “Victor’s Vision,” a supplemental school day program for orphans in Chulucanas, Peru that will expand to include preparation for college and scholarship programs. She is currently in the process of making this organization a 501©3 certified NGO, and intends to extend its reach for orphans across Latin America.
2009: Sarah Arscott - This Award recipient for 2009 is Sarah Arscott, a major in Mechanical Engineering. As president of the Villanova student chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), Ms. Arscott’s leadership was pivotal in advancing the group from a membership of 5 to what is now a registration of over 150. During her tenure, the group has completed an impressive array of projects locally, nationally, and internationally. These projects include making plans for and the building of walking ramps for Villanova’s annual Special Olympics Fall Festival; design and construction of a playground in one of the communities devastated by Hurricane Katrina; and the installation of a gravity-flow water system to deliver clean drinking water to an orphanage and several villages in Thailand. Throughout its work, EWB avidly pursued opportunities for solidarity, for example, through careful collaboration with parents, students, and faculty in Louisiana, as well as with the people of northern Thailand.Sarah has also worked closely with Water for Waslala in Nicaragua, and has for several years helped coordinate its annual Walk for Water.In the words of Dean of Engineering Dr. Gary Gabriele, Sarah Arscott “has used her technical and organizational skills as a means of not only serving but also empowering the poor, marginalized, and disadvantaged around the world.” Congratulations,-and thank you- Sarah!
2008: Katrine Herrick - The 2008 award recipient is Katrine Herick, a School of Business, Management major, with a concentration in Peace and Justice Studies. Katrine is a young woman who has both compassion for the poor and a desire for justice. Since her freshman year she has consciously, deliberately, and consistently found ways to bring compassion and justice to all that she does through her academic work, internships, and services in the United States and abroad. She has risen to positions of leadership that have allowed her to deepen the level of understanding and engagement in the struggle for justice for herself and the Villanova community. Next year, Katrine will be serving as a Field Associate for NETWORK, the Catholic National Social Justice Lobby. Congratulations — and thank you — Katrine!
2007: Christine Feldmeier - she is the recipient of the award in 2007 is Ms. Christine Feldmeier, a major in Chemistry and Biochemistry. Christine has been part of the Villanova Habitat for Humanity steering committee since her sophomore year, and has served as an affiliate director. She has participated in mission trips to Chulucanas, Peru, and, as co-leader, to Durban, South Africa, and currently volunteers at Siloam, a center for AIDS wellness in Philadelphia. Most notably, Christine has initiated two projects in the impoverished province of San Juan la Maguana in the Dominican Republic. Forging a partnership with her hometown community of Beaver, Pennsylvania, she has helped to sponsor San Juan’s health care clinic, and has worked there herself in the delivery of pre-natal examinations, vaccinations, and instruction about sanitation and the prevention of infection. In addition, she launched a program of teaching piano to children and teenagers in the province that has expanded both an awareness of their human possibility as well as their economic opportunity.
Next year Christine Feldmeier will study medicine at Thomas Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, where she intends to continue to enlist support for and serve the San Juan clinic. She plans, in her words, “to use my medical training in the future to continue to make a difference in the lives of the poor.” Congratulations—and thank you--Christine!
2006: Jaime C. Gentile
2005: Bryan C. Rivera
2004: Matthew D. Nespoli
2003: Nancy Steedle
2002: Teresa Mambu
2001: Michael S. McGlinnis
2000: Paola Gaines