Junior Patrick Vecellio and sophomore Ann Marie Kirchner received the 2015 George B. Sweeney Endowed Campion Award for Service this month.
According to the official Center for Service and Social Action awards announcement, the Campion Award “recognizes sophomore and junior student leaders who have demonstrated a commitment to community service and social justice motivated by a faith perspective.”
“My spirituality definitely influences what I do and why I do it,” Kirchner said.
Kirchner began participating in service at John Carroll University in the fall of her freshman year. Her first service experience was a component of her first year seminar class.
“I started at Collinwood High School, tutoring kids for the OGT,” said Kirchner. “I continued to do it again in the spring just because I liked it and I felt like I was really helping them there.”
Kirchner’s service experience includes volunteering at St. Thomas Aquinas’ after-care program, and this past summer she completed a service-based internship at the Fatima Family Center.
“It’s nice to be able to help the kids with their schoolwork and stuff, but even more than that, you become like a friend to them and like a mentor in general,” said Kirchner.
Both Vecellio and Kirchner work as student liaisons for CSSA. Student liaisons drive the CSSA vans and communicate between the University and the service site.
“It’s a great job,” said Vecellio. “You’re the connection between John Carroll and our sites.”
Vecellio is an Arrupe Scholar and co-chair of the Fatima food drive. His service career at JCU began the same way as Kirchner’s – OGT tutoring at Collinwood High School. Vecellio became involved with the We the People program his freshman year.
“I taught a fifth grade classroom my freshman year and a senior classroom at Collinwood my sophomore year. And I teach fourth graders at St. Thomas Aquinas, actually, now,” said Vecellio.
Vecellio also participates in service through Carroll Ballers, a student organization that works with juveniles at a local detention center. Vecellio, along with juniors Justin Bland and Thomas Boretsky, will be in charge of the organization after the current leaders, seniors Michael Gong and Ned Barnes, graduate this spring.
“I was one of the first members for the Carroll Ballers,” said Vecellio. “I think we started with seven guys, just going down there once a week, and now we have 75.”
Vecellio described what he has learned as a participant of Carroll Ballers. “It just breaks a lot of stereotypes, working down there, because you have these visions of thugs [that are] going to be swearing all the time.” He continued, “I’ve never felt more welcomed at a place, where people come up to you, high-fiving you, like ‘Hey, Pat. Glad you’re back.’”
Vecellio credits the game of basketball with helping to make connections with those at the detention center.
“You start to look at people differently. It’s not just the outer shell that defines someone,” he said.
Vecellio described one particular experience that involved a resident at the center. “He got up in the middle of one of our leadership sessions in the detention center, and he pointed at the TV, and it was ‘The First 48’.”
The nonfiction crime show was depicting a homicide that took place in Cleveland.
“And the kid stood up and he said, ‘This is me.’ It was his case on TV, with him and his brother,” said Vecellio. The juvenile was the convict at the center of the case.
Both Vecellio and Kirchner have volunteered at Collinwood High School in Cleveland.
“We don’t have metal detectors when we walk into school, things like huge security guards tackling kids in the hallway when they’re fighting,” said Vecellio.
“I was never scared to be there,” Kirchner explained. “At first, it was hard to get the students up to come to tutoring. They would just blow it off. There was just no accountability.
“And that’s one reason I wanted to stick with it, because I think they needed some sort of consistency,” Kirchner continued. “I think seeing the same face over and over and over again would just help them remember to come and feel more comfortable coming and stuff like that.”
Outside of service, Kirchner plays softball at JCU. Vecellio is a tour guide, a teaching assistant for organic chemistry and chair for the Class of 2019 celebration. Kirchner is a communications major with a concentration in integrated marketing, and Vecellio is a biochemistry major with a minor in philosophy.
“I went to a Jesuit high school,” said Vecellio. “So it’s like a smaller, no-girls version of John Carroll. I was always heavily involved in service there. It was a huge reason why I came here.”
Vecellio mentioned Doctors Without Borders as a possibility for his future. “I’m going to Honduras this May for a medical brigade. I’ll let you know after that,” he said. “I went there in high school, so I’m excited to go back.”
“It’s very rewarding, working with different people,” said Kirchner. “Sometimes it’s hard. You can get a lot of participation out of some people, and not much out of others, but you work with what you have.”
“We’re not Mother Teresa. We’re not saving a bunch of people,” said Vecellio. “But eventually, hopefully, these experiences can shape us into people that can do that one day.”
“You have nothing to lose,” Kirchner said about signing up for service. “I just think it’s a really great thing to get involved with, and I’m really glad that I did.”