Skip to main content

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 small-group meetings on campus 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 this application form by Monday, September 6, at 11:59 PM

Plan to do the following:

Attend the half-day Kickoff Retreat, commissioning Mass, and half-day Post-Immersion Retreat (see details on the application)

Attend five-to-six weekly, one-hour sessions with your group

Participate in a group fundraiser

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.

 Each group has about 10–14 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. It also communicates 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. Needs-based scholarships are also available. Students may also set up an individualized payment plan (contact the program director). 

More info on the cost of each SJE can be found here.

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

five-to-six weekly group meetings

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.

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. Participants will stay in dormitory-style housing. They will engage many community partners who provide lunch and dinner.

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 9–Saturday, October 16


Group will drive to location

What does it mean to be an activist? Could you go all in? How do you measure the "worth" of a community?

This group will try to answer these questions when they partner with Hand in Hand Ministries near their headquarters in Louisville, KY. They will work with local residents on projects determined by the community. 

Hand in Hand will introduce students to a community of heritage, challenges and hope. Residents and speakers from many backgrounds and viewpoints will discuss the issues they confront. Students also will discover the origins of redlining and its continued scourge on urban America. 

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 9–Saturday, October 16


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 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 and will be welcomed by the Marion community, which prepares most meals for college groups.

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 9–Saturday, October 16


Group will drive to location

Located in Alderson, WV, Bethlehem Farm is an intentional, faith-based Catholic living community that strives to transform lives through serving the local community and teaching sustainability. 

In addition to learning about the people of Appalachia and the social justice issues that affect them, students will be immersed in Bethlehem Farm's environmentally conscious and sustainable living practices. They will work with the surrounding community and pray together in the Catholic tradition. 

Days will center on Catholic social teaching principles, and students may do a variety of projects, from helping a family repair their home to working the farm and preparing the food it produces.

Immersion Week Dates
Sunday, October 10–Saturday, October 16


Group will drive to location

The Romero Center Ministries’ Urban Challenge is a service-learning immersion experience, rooted in the Catholic faith tradition, that offers a point of access to the lives and stories of the people of Camden, NJ, and surrounding communities. 

Students will engage in reflections related to Catholic social teaching and participate in simulations focused on social inequality. Service is presented as either a ministry of labor (sorting food, landscaping, preparing/serving food) or of presence (sharing stories with the very young and very old, playing games at a community center).

Immersion Week Dates
Sunday, October 10–Saturday, October 16


Group will drive to location

During their time with Bethel AME Church’s Victory Garden Program, based in Ardmore, PA, students will engage in social analysis to examine and understand food inequality on the Main Line and the unique challenges of responding to food inequality in a suburban context. 

They will learn how Black communities are “reclaiming their food sovereignty and restoring their food shed” by growing their own food. They will examine the intersections of food, faith and race. 

The experience includes direct service in community gardens and a variety of other food-related ministries in Philadelphia and Camden, NJ. Students will likely spend an overnight in Baltimore and learn from the Black Church Food Security Network, as well as recent college grads living in community and engaged in racial justice activism in Baltimore.

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 9–Sunday, October 17


Group will drive to location

This experience gives students of all abilities the opportunity to serve, grow and change the way people see ability. Discovery Trail and Triply Play Farm  serve all ages and abilities. They use the outdoors in a safe and delightful way, integrating therapeutic animals. 

 Students chosen for this experience will work at two different facilities, help improve the physical landscape, interact with students from a local school in Davidson, NC, who use the facility, and dive deeper into nature-based therapeutic-educational programming. 

Lodging will be in a local hotel to account for accessibility needs.

Immersion Week Dates
Saturday, October 9–Saturday, October 16


Group will drive to location

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.

Member Bios

Student Matthew Tan sitting next to railroad tracks

Matthew Tan

Hello! I am a senior Nursing major from Finksburg, MD. I went on a spring SJE with Habitat for Humanity at Cape Fear, NC, in 2020. 

I love the SJE program because it provides you time away from a busy environment to appreciate small gifts, like living a meaningful, simplistic life and building relationships with the people around you. 

It also allowed me time to reflect deeply on what service meant to me and identify ways to keep the spirit of service alive after the trip was over. As a part of this team, I am excited to help leaders and participants identify where service may fit in their lives.

Fun fact: I hate ketchup. :)

Student Bridget Sullivan posing in front of trees

Bridget Sullivan

Hi there! I am a senior studying Humanities and Psychology. I am originally from Syracuse in upstate New York, so I am an avid skier in the winters. When the snow parts ways for summer, I love to visit the East Coast beaches and paint. 

I was first introduced to the SJE program my sophomore year when I participated on the LEVEL trip at Discovery Trail at Rocky Creek and Triple Play Farm. I had such a powerful and fruitful experience during that week. 

I just knew that I had to become more involved in the SJE program, so I decided to become a leader, and from there, I joined the Core Team so that I could dive even deeper into actively promoting this amazingly impactful program. This fall I will be co-leading the Hand in Hand Ministries trip with Mary Swikle, and we could not be more thrilled to take part in something so special! 

Student Peter Capozzi sitting on a beach

Peter Capozzi

Hi. I am a rising senior with majors in Marketing and Business Analytics and an MIS minor. I am from Long Beach, NY. I’m super excited to be leading the Radical Hospitality SJE to Marion County, SC, where my co-leader and I will be working with Habitat for Humanity. 

I love the SJE program because it allows students to come together for a good cause. And I’m excited to work on the SJE Core Team to give my peers the best opportunity to learn about other people, communities and cultures.

Student Cole Marcuccio in a Villanova sweatshirt with his thumbs up

Cole Marcuccio

Hi! I’m a senior Chemical Engineering major from Canton, CT. After an extraordinary experience on the Renewable Energy SJE in Spring 2020, I’m leading the Diversity in Appalachia trip in Fall 2021. 

My culinary skills are a real source of pride: I can make exactly three things and two of them are pasta. In total seriousness, one of my greatest college feats was carrying a fully cooked, 15-pound Thanksgiving turkey across the entire campus.

As a leader and member of the Core Team, I can’t wait to listen, learn and share in each moment with the rest of the SJE community!

Student Annie O'Regan in front of majestic building

Annie O’Regan

Hello, I am Annie O’Regan, a senior majoring in Organizational Communication and minoring in English and Public Administration. I am from Park Ridge, IL, so I am a big fan of Chicago sports, food, and landmarks (especially “the Bean”). On campus, you can find me spending my days outside and participating in various campus organizations, such as Campus Ministry, Irish Cultural Society and Chi Omega.

I will be leading the SJE to Marion, SC, in the fall; I previously participated in an SJE to Cape Fear, NC. I am excited to serve as a member of the Core Team because I am passionate about creating systemic change in the world by volunteering, serving others and living out Villanova’s values of Unitas, Caritas and Veritas