Pictured (to the right): As expert athletes, students such as Meredith Mangiarotti '14 LAS teach children at St. Barnabas about the importance of health and maintaining an active lifestyle.
VILLANOVA, Pa. - At Villanova University, the word “community” signifies the connection of all Villanovans to one another. It also represents the link between Villanova and the world. This bond drives the more than 12-year relationship between the University’s student-athletes and Episcopal Community Services’ St. Barnabas Mission.
Every week they visit the women and children shelter in Philadelphia to give mothers a break by playing with the children and developing relationships with the families. The partnership that has been created between the Athletics Department and Campus Ministry for the St. Barnabas trip is an invaluable opportunity for student-athletes to get into the community and be involved in service with fellow Villanovans.
“The experience becomes an opportunity to put the focus on the child rather than on the stress and confinement of the family’s situation,” says Carly Edwards ’14 LAS, a standout volleyball player. “As student-athletes at such a community-centered university, it is important that we remember the foundation on which Villanova was built and seek to be positive representations of its pillars: truth, unity and charity.”
Allison Venella ’08 LAS, ’13 MA, coordinator of Student Services for Athletics, says the partnership has been bolstered by the enthusiasm and commitment of the Campus Ministry leaders. “Our student-athletes have so much to share and give to others, but at the same time are still able to grow and learn from others. They represent what exactly it means to ignite change.”
“It is a great opportunity for our moms who much need and deserve a break,” says Victoria Bennett, director of Episcopal Community Services’ St. Barnabas Mission. “Even though the children are playing games and having fun, there is a focus on teamwork and peer support. Seeing strong, healthy student-athletes helps motivate the children to engage in appropriate physical activity that supports health and wellness.”
The fabric of Villanova
In his two years at college Patrick Williams ’15 LAS, a student-athlete on the football team, rarely misses an opportunity to give back, despite a demanding schedule that leaves little free time. “I relate to these kids living in the shelter, because I was there once. I let them know, ‘You can make it out because I made it out,’” he says. “I wouldn’t be in college without the service of others.”
Jordan Hunter ’15 LAS, who plays defensive line on the football team, says the feeling of connecting to people in need and giving of yourself is why he makes sure to visit St. Barnabas weekly. “I want those children to know that they are safe and that someone will look after them,” he says.
Like many student-athletes, Jordan also volunteers at Special Olympics, the St. Thomas of Villanova Day of Service and the Andy Talley Bone Marrow Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Villanova’s football coach.
“Our players are very happy to do just about anything to help,” says Coach Talley. He adds that in April they expect to add 8,000 people, from Villanova and beyond, to the bone marrow registry. “I tell our student-athletes, ‘God has given you a great talent, and you can influence students to join the donor list in order to potentially save a life.’”
Coach Talley notes that, in addition to service, there is an emphasis on academic performance. And it shows across all 24 varsity sports. Villanova’s student-athletes have earned an average GPA of 3.0 or greater for 18 straight semesters. A total of 314 student-athletes were named to the BIG EAST All-Academic Team for the 2011-12 academic year.
Fun and fitness
As expert athletes, the students teach the children at St. Barnabas about the importance of health and maintaining an active lifestyle. Of course, fun is priority one, so that usually means endless games of duck, duck, goose and red light, green light.
“Not only are we there to keep them moving, but we are also there to be someone for them to learn from, and it is flattering to know that we are considered their role models,” says Meredith Mangiarotti ’14 LAS. “Being in a place as special as Villanova, we are constantly reminded of how lucky we are, which leads to taking time to share our blessings.”
“Service is part of the fabric of who we are at Villanova, part of the Villanova experience,” says Jenna Cucco ’07 LAS, ’10 MA, associate director of Weekly Service in Campus Ministry. “When you engage in service, the people you touch shape that experience.”
*Article ran in the Spring 2013 issue of Villanova Magazine