Caldwell, N.J., Sept. 24, 2021 – Classes were canceled at Caldwell University on Friday, September 24 so the campus community could volunteer at non-profits and neighborhood organizations for the annual Caldwell Service Day.
Some 170 volunteers helped with park clean-up from Tropical Storm Ida, packaged 17,000 meals to help alleviate global hunger, visited the homebound, and packed food at the Community FoodBank of New Jersey.
Colleen O’Brien, director of campus ministry who organized the day, said she was so grateful that the volunteers “showed up and signed up to serve people who really need us.”
President Matthew Whelan, Ed.D. and his wife Kathy volunteered to help the nearly 80 volunteers package meals for the organization Rise Against Hunger.
Service, said Dr. Whelan, is a way to “live out the University’s core values of respect and community and is an expression of the Gospel…thank you for being here and making our mission come alive.”
Student Denielle Keenan also packaged the meals. “We all worked and mingled so well together…we were dancing and having so much fun doing it.”
At St. Aloysius Church in Caldwell, some volunteers did yard work and others like students Sofia LoSardo and Cian Richardson visited the homebound with Sister Eleanor Uhl, O.P., a Sister of St. Dominic of Caldwell. LoSardo was inspired by visiting with the elderly women who had lost their husbands and were still youthful in spirit. It was a lesson, she said, that “life can throw you a lot of things, but you can continue even after losing a life partner and still be as happy as ever.”
“It was eye-opening,” said Richardson. To give to another person, “you don’t have to do anything at all, you just have to listen.”
Matt Netter, manager, digital content and communications, led a group of 20 into Branchbrook Park in Newark where they cleaned up trash, pulled weeds, and identified and uprooted invasive shrubs. “It’s amazing how much you can get done with a big team of volunteers and it feels so good to help beautify a beloved park,” Netter said. “Caldwell Service Day is a wonderful tradition. It’s not only an opportunity for the University to engage in the greater community, but also for students, faculty, and staff to connect with each other on a personal level.”
Jessica Leon, Daniella Marrero and Destiny Gonzalez-Ortiz, seniors, took part in Caldwell Day for their first times. They volunteered at the Grover Cleveland Park Conservancy helping with clean-up from the damage from Tropical Storm Ida. “I love to do it. I’d do it again,” said Leon. Mark Brodie, board member for the Conservancy, said the entire pond house was full of mud from the devastation of Ida. He appreciated the assistance from the University group. “They worked really hard.”
The faculty, staff and students agreed that Caldwell Service Day provided a chance to have fun being together after a long time away due to COVID-19, to help others and to learn life lessons. “We influence people in the smallest ways with the shortest amount of energy,” said Gonzalez-Ortiz. “A simple smile, a simple compliment can change someone’s day,” said Marrero.
O’Brien led a group sharing activity after lunch. Sister Lena Picillo, O.P., a Sister of St. Dominic of Caldwell, reflected on being a part of the Rise Against Hunger group. She said it makes her think of the scripture verse related to ‘“I have come to serve, not to be served.” That is what you are all about today.”
Caldwell Service Day was started in 2010. O’Brien said the day is reflective of the mission of Caldwell University. “Mother Joseph Dunn, Caldwell’s foundress in the 1930s, would be really proud of us.”