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Service and Justice Experiences

Service and Justice Experiences (SJEs) are opportunities for students to build relationships with other Villanovans and community partners committed to working for justice. Grounded in the Augustinian, Catholic values of truth, unity and love, SJEs are open to all students, regardless of faith identity, who are willing to think critically about social issues and commit to working for the common good.

Hickory 2018

SJEs start with five weekly group meetings on campus pre-immersion to: 

  • build community
  • engage in social analysis around a specific theme
  • share in prayerful reflection

Then, over semester break, small groups spend a one-week immersion experience with their partner community. They: 

  • gain firsthand experiences of and insights into the lives of people they encounter
  • take part in service
  • develop a critical awareness of social issues 

Take these simple steps:

Bring an open mind and an open heart

Be willing to listen attentively, share honestly, serve generously and question passionately

Complete the participant application form by Tuesday, September 5, 2023 at 11:59 PM

To participate in the Mini SJE, complete the sign up by Friday, September 15, 2023.

Plan to do the following:

Attend three SJE program trainings, Commissioning, and half-day Post-Immersion Retreat (see details on the application)

Participate in “coffee dates,” “challenge activities,” or other community-building or learning opportunities

Participate in a weeklong immersion experience with your group

Abide by the SJE program guidelines

The SJE program encourages encounter with diverse perspectives. During the selection process, we aim for diversity of graduation year, major, extracurricular interest, gender, race and religious identity. This may ask participants to step out of their comfort zones and get to know new people that they might not normally interact with. 

 Each group ranges from 6–10 members, including two student leaders and one or two staff mentors (usually a campus minister, grad student, or other Villanova faculty or staff). 

The leadership team prepares and facilitates group discussions and reflections. They also communicate logistics, requirements, expectations and other important information to the group.

Each SJE has a specific topic or theme to give focus to group discussions. The theme is then encountered firsthand during the immersion week. Groups use Catholic social teaching to analyze, discuss,and reflect upon their theme.

During the immersion, groups can expect a combination of direct service, workshops, educational opportunities, relationship building and free time to experience the community. They will also have time for prayer, personal reflection and communal discussion. 

Some SJEs place a greater emphasis on direct service. Others give more attention to skill-building and education.

The cost of each SJE covers program fees, on-site meals, transportation and lodging. We recommend that students bring about $150 of personal spending money for meals in transit, snacks and keepsakes.

Each group participates in a fundraiser. Need-based scholarships are also available. Students may also set up an individualized payment plan (to do so, please contact the program director). 

More info on the cost of each SJE can be found by the site descriptions.

SJEs are grounded in Catholic social teaching but are open to students of all faith identities and philosophical perspectives. We simply ask that participants be open to encountering “God-talk,” which informs the work of many of our partner organizations, as well as the mission of the SJE program.

SJEs encourage critical reflection on the role of religion in the modern world. Most important is a commitment to the dignity of every person and a desire to develop a personal worldview that is committed to social transformation for justice and the liberation of the oppressed.

Safety is always a priority on SJEs. 

Members of the leadership team get instructions on how to deal with a variety of physical, mental and emotional-health issues that could arise. 

Groups are equipped with a first aid kit. 

Groups driving to their destination use Villanova-certified vehicles, and drivers complete a training course.

We work closely with community partners in cases of emergency. We collect emergency contact details during the application process, and a Campus Ministry staff member is on call 24-7 during the immersion week. 

Students are asked to travel with their insurance card and any other necessary medical information and to keep these with them at all times.

Leaders will give you a detailed packing list specific to your SJE. In general, follow these guidelines:

Bring simple attire (jeans, T-shirts, sweatshirts, comfortable shoes, work boots, lounge clothes for evenings, and one nicer outfit for a religious service or dinner at a restaurant). 

Pack toiletries, a water bottle and a journal. Some sites require that students bring a pillow and sleeping bag. 

Do not bring more than a carry-on suitcase or duffel bag and one personal item, such as a book bag.

Do not bring schoolwork, laptop computers or other technology, weapons of any kind, nonprescription drugs or alcohol. Regardless of age, you may not purchase or consume nonprescription drugs and alcohol during your immersion or any SJE-related activities.

Students are asked to fast from technology during portions of their SJE. Putting away our devices allows us to be fully present to one another, our community partners and everyone we encounter.

Aside from a “documentarian” designated each day during the immersion, students are asked to refrain from taking photographs. We do no enter communities as “poverty tourists” but in respectful encounter and committed solidarity with those working for justice.

Leaders will have their devices with them at all times in case of emergency. Students will be able to call home in cases of need.

SJEs are not simply weeklong immersion trips. They are two-month experiences that includes relationship building, education, prayerful reflection, and acts of service and justice. 

Students are asked to commit to the full program cycle and to attend and participate actively in all aspects of the experience, including

half-day kick-off retreat

two mandatory trainings pre-departure

coffee dates, a group fundraiser and other activities determined by the leadership team

weeklong immersion

post-immersion retreat day

Outside of the immersion week, the average weekly commitment is two hours.

Participants must have received a complete cycle (one or two doses, depending on which vaccine you receive) of a COVID-19 vaccine to participate in the SJE program. Students must be able to provide documentation upon request.

One of the key tenets of Catholic Social Teaching is solidarity. During their stay with Dolores Mission Church, participants on this SJE will grow in solidarity and relationship with the people of the church by touring and participating in many of the church’s different programs and community initiatives. These opportunities include touring Homeboy Industries, the largest gang rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world, preparing and eating a meal with the Guadalupe Homeless Project’s shelter residents, and leading an art activity with IMPACTO, an after-school program for children.

Participants on this SJE will have an eventful week, as these are only a few of the week’s activities. Lodging will be provided onsite at Dolores Mission Church.

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 7 - Saturday, October 14, 2023


Group will stay on site at Dolores Mission Church

Group will fly to location

The core mission of Mustard Seed Communities is to care for the most vulnerable populations in society. The organization focuses on providing for children and adults with disabilities who have been abandoned. They believe that "in order to create lasting change, we all must also address the complex needs of a community." 

Over fall break, Villanova students will be working and staying at Mustard Seed Communities' home in Montego Bay, Blessed Assurance. Blessed Assurance is home to over 30 children and young adults with disabilities. Student volunteers will stay in the volunteer housing at Blessed Assurance during their entire trip. 

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 7 - Saturday, October 14, 2023


Group will stay on site in Windsor Lodge (outside of Montego Bay)

Group will fly to location

In Winston-Salem, NC, 5% of the housing does not meet the minimum housing code, and 2.5% of the population live in overcrowded conditions. The need for new houses and neighborhood revitalization projects is huge. 

Students will partner with Habitat for Humanity of Forsyth County, which is working to remedy this situation. In addition to working on one of the home builds in the local community, participants will engage many community partners throughout the week who provide meals and fellowship for the group.

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 7 - Saturday, October 14, 2023


Group will stay in dormitory-style lodging 

Group will drive to location

The Bethel AME Church Community Garden and Victory Gardens in Ardmore, PA aim to promote community wellness, intergenerational learning, and food sovereignty by creating a space where people can come together with the purpose of sharing knowledge and growing nutritious and culturally-relevant food.

Student participants will support the gardens by helping grow healthy foods for free distribution while also participating in spiritual support with room for healing, learning, and reconnecting with the Earth for people who have been systematically denied access to land. Students will stay in a nearby Methodist church.

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 7 –Saturday, October 14, 2023


Group will stay at a nearby church

Group will drive to location

Marion County has the highest unemployment rate in South Carolina, and poverty housing is rampant. Students will partner with Habitat for Humanity of Marion-Dillon County, which is responding to the housing inequity by building one quality, affordable home at a time. 

Students will have plenty of work to do with Habitat for Humanity throughout the week and will be welcomed by the Marion community, which prepares most meals for college groups. This experience is a unique opportunity to build community and meet others committed to service and justice.

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 7 –Saturday, October 14, 2023


Group will stay in a local church

Group will drive to location

This SJE provides all students of all abilities the opportunity to serve, grow, and embrace an opportunity to change the way people see ability. Triple Play Farm serves all ages, all abilities, and sets out to use the outdoors in a safe and delightful way along with integrating therapeutic animals into the overall experience.

Students on this experience will also work at Discovery Trail to help improve the physical landscape, interact with students from a local school who utilize the facility, and dive deeper into nature based therapeutic/educational programming. Lodging will take place in a local hotel to account for accessibility needs

Immersion Week Dates
Sunday, October 7 – Friday, October 13, 2023


Group will stay in a local hotel

Group will drive to location

We are partnering with St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia to offer a service experience during the second weekend of fall break for those who cannot travel the full week of break. The experience will last from Friday evening until late Sunday afternoon, October 13-15, 2023.

St. Francis Inn has been serving meals to anyone who comes by since 1979. They emphasize the human dignity of every person and serve a sit down style meal to their guests. Participants will cook and serve community meals at St. Francis Inn, as well as engage in community building and reflection on hunger and homelessness in the Philadelphia community.  

Immersion Weekend Dates
Friday, October 13 - Sunday, October 15, 2023


Group will stay in the Volunteer House at St. Francis Inn

Group will drive to location

Sign up by September 15 for our Mini-SJE! 

What Is SJE Leadership?

Ryan Haack '22 COE

Student Valentina Wey
"Being in Camden, NJ, was an eye-opening experience that served to remind me not to believe the stereotypes imposed on different areas. The people of Camden were so kind, open and amazing to us! They are the reason I look back at this experience so fondly."—Valentina Wey ’23 CLAS
student Jack Brenner sticking tongue out in fun
"Service and Justice Experiences have changed my life! It’s like having little parts of me scheduled everywhere I had the privilege to serve! Forever keeping those bonds I made and the lessons I learned with me! I’m proud to have participated [in] and led them!"—Jack Brenner ’19 VSB
"I reminisce about the SJE often! From long car trips and fun hikes to painting an entire house and folk dancing, I became so close to a group of individuals that I had never met before in a quick instant! I realized this SJE how kindhearted and altruistic people can be when I just meet them, and I will never forget the wonderful experiences we shared together."—Megan Tsou ’23 VSB

The SJE Core Team represents the student voice and strives to ensure that the SJE personnel and pedagogy reflect community members’ commitment, passion and goals.

- Serve as the SJE program’s primary leadership in collaboration with the program director and graduate assistants

 - Serve as a liaison between student leaders and campus ministers

- Meet regularly with campus ministers, including retreats as appropriate

- Plan and lead regular full-group and committee meetings with student leaders

- Coordinate ongoing leadership training and development

- Revise the recruitment process to maximize exposure and enthusiasm

- Reinvigorate student leadership 

- Develop and implement a clear, engaging curriculum built on service, community, solidarity and shared experience, spirituality, and commitment to the common good

- Evaluate the program to ensure it remains current 

It is preferred that the Core Team consist of four students from within the SJE leadership community: two students who have previously served as trip leaders and two students who will lead upcoming trips. 

The team will ideally consist of a mix of undergraduate seniors and juniors to ensure continuity. 

The planned commitment is for a spring semester followed by a fall semester, with flexibility to extend or shorten service as appropriate.