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From College Campus to Soup Kitchen

Jillian DeFina
Jillian DeFina

When Jillian DeFina graduates on May 16, she won’t enter the world of newly minted college graduates who are searching for a career and a salary. She has a nobler goal in mind.


DeFina, a psychology major from Bay Shore, New York, will join the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) for a year, working at the St. Francis of Assisi soup kitchen in Scranton, Pennsylvania. She’ll be in charge of recruiting and supervising volunteers, stocking the pantry, updating the kitchen’s facebook page, and being the banana runner (apparently the kitchen uses quite a few bananas).


She and five other volunteers will live in quarters provided by the JVC, but her stipend will be just $100 per month from August 2015 to August 2016. DeFina is actually looking forward to a year of poverty. “I have to commit my whole self to this,” she says. She’s certain that her experiences with Campus Ministry have prepared her for the year ahead. She has volunteered at St. Francis Inn (a soup kitchen in the Kensington section of Philadelphia) and Anna’s Place in Chester, and she has been a tireless worker for the Sandwiches for Survival program on campus.


DeFina transferred to Neumann at the beginning of her sophomore year, planning to become a psychologist. A pilgrimage to Assisi and Rome changed everything. “I had surgery on both my legs before the pilgrimage,” she explains, “but I’ve always had an underlying connection to St. Clare and I did not want to miss the trip.”


In Assisi, she was able to make the Clare Walk, the journey Clare took from her home to meet St. Francis. “I felt that my walk was almost an exact re-enactment of the events that occurred so long ago,” she admits. “My life changed after that.”


She now wants to earn a master’s degree in pastoral counseling after her year with the JVC and then become a campus minister. “Psychology is not enough. I want to do the most rewarding and fulfilling work I can imagine.”


The JVC supports organizations that provide direct service to people who are poor and marginalized by placing volunteers at schools, non-profits, and other sites around the world. These volunteers work with children who have limited educational opportunities, people who are homeless, patients diagnosed with AIDS, survivors of domestic abuse, low-wage earners, former gang members, refugees, or the elderly.


According to the JVC website, their volunteers “bring energy and hope to the individuals and organizations they serve and gain valuable life skills, insights, and connections.” Almost 300 schools, nonprofit agencies, and grassroots organizations in 37 American cities and six countries count on JVC volunteers to provide essential services.



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