When Saint Joseph Regional developed its strategic plan in 2015, one of the pillars was the expansion of the school's campus ministry program.
By any measure the progress has been significant in terms of active service.
The most substantial area of growth is an uptick in volunteerism from the student body as a whole.
Director of Campus Ministry Joe LoGiudice's goal is not simply to expect students to give back, but to foster a culture of service throughout the hallways.
"Serving your community has become a hallmark of being an SJR student, a faithful man," said LoGiudice.
The school calendar is filled with initiatives designed to encourage community interaction, faith-based learning and personal growth.
"Since coming to SJR, I've learned to look for opportunities to help in my community," said Anthony Panissidi '20. "It's about accepting the responsibility that comes with being faithful men."
In addition to off-campus class retreats, students have opportunities to volunteer with fellow Green Knights.
"Our goal is to make service opportunities more accessible to our student body, especially our younger students who do not drive and rely on their parents to engage them in campus ministry activities," explained LoGiudice.
To that end, several school-sponsored initiatives enable all students to participate. Athletic programs have also gotten into the mix with by supporting organizations as a team, including a commitment to participate in the Tackle Sickle Cell 5K, benefitting the charity of Devin and Jason McCourty '05.
"It was good to do and good to see my friends do it alongside me," said Vahn Friday '21, who volunteered with football teammates at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey. "And it was actually a lot of fun as we packed up food for summer programs in the community."
By far the largest school- sponsored activity is the Covenant House Sleep Out. Taking place in the fall, the event saw 170 students (more than thirty-three percent of the student body) sleep outside in the school courtyard. SJR's Sleep Out was the largest by a high school in the United States!
"The hardest part is getting through the next day," explained Dominick Mas '21. "But that's the reality for many of our peers."
But it's worth it as students come away with a greater understanding of the challenges others face on a daily basis.
"The Sleep Out taught me to respect people for what they have, to appreciate what I have and to do what I can to help others," said Joe Lombardo '20.
The event wasn't always so large. Just seven years ago, at the first Sleep Out, only twenty-five students participated.
In addition to the continued growth of existing programs such Adopt-A- Grandparent, food drives, and even Christmas caroling, SJR plans to expand the programming even further.
LoGiudice is planning to use the gift of a 10-passenger van from the Class of 1973 to support more regular initiatives.
He intends to offer multiple after- school service opportunities per week to enable students to volunteer in the community through after-school programs at Camp Acorn and Oasis–A Shelter for Women and Children.
On a larger scale, SJR's summer mission trip program has grown from one to three options. 2019 will see excursions to Buffalo (Young Neighbors in Action), to Appalachia (Nazareth Farms) and, internationally, to Mexico (Universite de Mariste).
"In Chicago, the people were so happy to be able to use their community center after our work; it was incredibly rewarding," said Matt Salmon '19.
Additionally, more than five dozen Green Knights volunteer each summer at the Mid-Hudson Camps at Esopus during July and August.
As student service continues to grow, SJR has begun recognize those that go above and beyond by honoring them for their commitment to volunteerism.
Ninety-seven students were recognized at SJR's year-end awards ceremony for completing twenty or more hours during the school year. Of that group, thirty-three earned the St. Joseph the Worker Award with more than one hundred hours served.
Additionally, the importance of serving one's community in the college admissions process cannot be overlooked.
"While colleges emphasize the GPA as well as SAT/ACT scores, the importance of the student's overall resume remains significant, especially community service/volunteerism," said Guidance Counselor Arlene DiFiore. "Serving with an organization for an extended period, taking responsibility and showing leadership is often the best way for a student to catch the eye of an admissions counselor."
A recent study by Education Systems Design found that 68% of college admissions officers stated that service has a positive impact on a student's acceptance with more than half stating that community service was an important factor in the decision making process at their college or university.
"My experience on mission trips over the past three summers absolutely led to my receiving a scholarship offer to Ohio State," said Justin Pyle '19.
The mutual benefits of creating a culture of service are obvious. In addition to serving the greater good, the young men of Saint Joseph Regional are building their own futures.