Siena’s Franciscan Center Fosters Student Volunteerism

HNP Communications Features

LOUDONVILLE, N.Y. — Siena College students recently participated in a volunteer event to live out the college’s mission to care for all creation in the spirit of St. Francis.

On April 19, more than 75 students took part in the ninth annual Community Service Day, an event founded to instill a desire to volunteer. Sponsored by the Franciscan Center for Service and Advocacy (FCSA), the day engaged students in volunteer service to the wider community, according to Judy Dougherty, assistant director for the center.

Students gathered for breakfast and prayer before going to the surrounding towns to volunteer for the day with more than a dozen agencies. They worked with the Capital District Habitat for Humanity, City Mission of Schenectady, the Homeless Action Committee, the Regional Foodbank and the United House of Troy and Children’s center, among others. They sorted and packed food for the food bank, prepared a playground at a daycare center, and worked with a homeowner to renovate a house.

The students worked with four friars, Larry Anderson, OFM, intern at the center; Brian Belanger, OFM, and William Beaudin, OFM. Siena president Kevin Mullen, OFM, showed his support by attending the breakfast. Mathias Doyle, OFM, director of the FCSA, and Dougherty stopped by the student work sites during the day. Several college administrators and members of the maintenance and grounds crew also participated.

Cooking a Meal, Packing Food Boxes
In some cases, the students and friars worked directly with clients, doing tasks such as cooking and serving a meal at the Rescue Mission. In other instances, they worked behind the scenes, packing food boxes that were sent to food programs.

“It is our privilege to help those in need,” said Dougherty. “Siena is a Catholic college in the Franciscan tradition and this tradition teaches us from St. Francis and St. Clare that caring for our brothers and sisters and all of creation is very important.”

The day was such a success, she said, that the college is planning to hold the Community Service Day twice next year — in the spring and the fall.

Dougherty has seen the event grow since she has worked with the center for the past three years. “Students come from everywhere; we appeal to a wide range of students.”

“Most of our students come to us with a rich history of volunteer experience, and, at some point in their four years here, many volunteer. I would say that about 90 percent volunteer at some time.”

“I love my job; I love working with the students,” said Dougherty. “I love to see them engage and to understand the whole Franciscan tradition. That’s what keeps me here.”

A Long Siena Family Tradition
Dougherty has a long tradition with Siena. In 2006, she graduated with her son, Mathew, after returning to school to earn a degree in religious studies. Her daughter, Meagan, is now a sophomore, and her father and brother are also Siena alums. Her mother was an employee in the arts department for 15 years.

“My favorite part of my job is student interaction,” she said. “I love meeting and getting to know the students and having the opportunity to share in their volunteer experiences. It is my privilege to walk with them, witness their growth, and be there to reflect with them after the experience is over. It’s an amazing experience.”

Dougherty was on hand when the Franciscan Center received a donation April 10 from two brothers, a  2007 graduate and one who will to graduate in ’09. Mike and Matt DeFazio founded a company, Organic Joe’s, which promotes eating healthy foods. During the 2005 to 2006 school year, the brothers started the business, founded largely on an organic pizza sauce and dough.

The business is such a success, that they thanked the Siena community for its support by giving a percentage of their profits to the school.

The photo above shows the DeFazio brothers presenting their check to Mathias Doyle.  Also shown are Kevin Mullen, at left, Judy Dougherty, and, at right, Larry Anderson.

The FCSA was established in 1999. Its previous directors were Michael Harlan, OFM, who is now Provincial Secretary, and Kevin (from 2005 – 2007).

— Wendy Healy is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to
HNP Today.