‘14 alumna serves in New York Mercy Center

By: Roger Hoke – Staff Writer

Among the thousands of May graduates who left the University of Dayton to join the workforce were a number who elected to devote themselves to a year of service. Christine Cirillo was one of those Flyers who decided to give back.

After graduating with a psychology degree from UD, Cirillo began her work with the Mercy Volunteer Corps and has since been serving the Bronx, New York, community at the Mercy Center, the area’s local MVC post.

“Mercy Center is a community center for women and their families located in the Mott Haven section of the South Bronx, offering programs and services that empower women to reach their full potential and become agents of change in their families and communities,” according to the Mercy Center website.

“Mercy Center serves predominantly women and children and provides free, quality services in everything ranging from [English as a Second Language] classes, parenting classes, after-school programs for youth, yoga classes and legal counseling,” Cirillo said.

Cirillo said the Semester of Service she participated in while at UD was the foremost factor influencing her decision to join MVC.

She said her UD service experience included Campus Ministry’s BreakOut trips, being on the Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week Committee and participating in the Semester of Service, in which 20 students “take a semester away from full-time study to provide 450 hours of direct service in the Dayton community,” according to the program’s website.

“The reason I chose to do a year of service was to build upon the service learning experiences that I had at UD and to learn how to make service not a ‘once-in-a-while’ activity, but rather a lifestyle,” Cirillo said.

Cirillo said she decided on MVC because it stood out when compared to other service programs.

“I specifically chose Mercy Volunteer Corps because I appreciated the supportive and personal nature of the application process,” Cirillo said. “I also fell in love with the mission and work of Mercy Center.”

Mercy Center was founded by the Sisters of Mercy, a Roman Catholic order, and in that tradition seeks to empower women and families “to liberate themselves from economic poverty…by addressing the needs of the whole person, developing skills for healthy family living and economic advancement, and building a community of respect, hospitality and non-violence,” according to the center’s mission statement.

Cirillo said the program differed considerably from the jobs worked by most other graduates.

“I am living in Queens, New York, with other volunteers. Our housing, utilities and transportation are covered, we receive a food stipend and we also receive a small personal stipend,” Cirillo said.

“As part of our program, we are encouraged to build community by eating meals together, having spirituality nights, going on outings together,” she explained. “My main roles include leading the third through fifth grade age group in the after-school program, co-teaching an adult computer literacy course and organizing the Thanksgiving food pantry.”

Cirillo said she heard about the program through a co-worker at another social justice group and instantly knew MVC was the right place for her.

She said she believes service is something many people would enjoy doing and encourages graduates to seek out service opportunities.

“It’s a great way for hands-on people to incorporate service into their everyday lives,” Cirillo said.

Though fulfilling, she said the program can be tough at times.

“It’s not for everyone,” Cirillo said. “You have to have the interest, you have to be super committed and have to be willing to commit to living with, working with and helping people you do not know.”

She said the experience is challenging but ultimately worthwhile.

“You have to be ready to step outside of your comfort zone,” Cirillo said.

“It’s for people with a social justice mindset,” she said. “But, in the end, it’s totally worth it.”

Applications for UD’s Semester of Service are available at www.go.udayton.edu/sos and can be sent to semesterofservice@udayton.edu once completed. The deadline for the spring 2015 semester is this Friday.