BOSTON — When James Gallo, a student at Boston College, noticed his Twitter account filling up with word of the devastation being caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, he knew he wanted to help.

Gallo joined with fellow Boston College student Matthew Alonsozana, who is of Filipino descent, and other students at the college to launch efforts to help out in the face of the recent disaster. The Boston College Typhoon Haiyan Relief Initiative raised about $13,000 and included a concert to raise funds — all the brainchild of Gallo.

The concert took place a mere nine days after Gallo got the idea. “The concert was awesome. Everyone came together. So many people helped,” Gallo said. The concert raised $1,200.

Gallo, a senior who has a job lined up in banking after graduation, attributes Boston College’s strong and immediate student-led response to the disaster in the Philippines to the Jesuit philosophy that Gallo said pervades the college.

“I don’t think Boston College pushes it as much as it is ingrained,” Gallo said. He added, “I’ve started to understand that you can do little things,” he said, “and maybe this won’t change the whole world. But you can make a difference in somebody’s life.”

“While I have been blessed to do so many things here at Boston College, this school is unique in regards to the sheer number of students and faculty alike who not only find comfort in their faith but also see it as a motivating force in their lives,” said Alonsozana.

Alonsozana and a group of friends also launched a for-profit tutoring program that ploughed profits back into helping low-income students prepare for college. They paid particular attention to helping students find colleges where they would be happy and do well.


Jamaican Service

Michael Ottaunick, a student at Villanova University, also believes that attending a Catholic college is a good way to become motivated to lead in charitable endeavors. Ottaunick’s start in student-led charitable work began when he volunteered to go to Kingston, Jamaica, to help out at the Callaloo Mews Basic School, a school for children aged 3 to 6.  

On the last day of the group’s stay there, the principal pulled Ottaunick’s group aside. She took them for a walk around the impoverished neighborhood.

“She described the school as an oasis in the middle of a desert of poverty,” Ottaunick said, noting that the school was the only place able to supply many of the children with their only balanced meal of the day. It was the neighborhood’s only source of running water for drinking and hygiene. She also told the Villanova students that the school was in a precarious financial situation.

“Our group took this to heart, and we really wanted to do something when we got back home,” recalled Ottaunick. This was the beginning of Outlook Oasis, a student-run campaign to raise money for Callaloo Mews. “The school is rich with pride, compassion and love but lacks the funding to support itself,” the group’s Facebook page says.

Through such fundraising activities as an a cappella concert and a fundraising page, the group has raised more than $6,000 for Callaloo Mews Basic School. Ottaunick said that the experience of being at a Catholic college is “100%” responsible for setting the group on this path.

“Before college, I had a desire to be in community service, I guess,” said Ottaunick, “but it was coming to a Catholic college, more than anything, that gave me the opportunity to do this.”

Augustinian Father Joseph Mostarda, director of Villanova’s campus ministry, seconds Ottaunick’s perception, citing Villanova’s tradition of “service breaks” such as the mission to Jamaica that inspired Ottaunick and his friends as key to students’ desire to take a leadership role in charitable or apostolic works.


The Catholic University of America

Like Gallo and his friends at Boston College and Ottaunick and his friends at Villanova, Andre de la Paz, a student at The Catholic University of America, saw the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan as a call to action.

De la Paz was one of the two undergraduates who were the principal student organizers of The Catholic University of America’s response to that disaster. The response included a special Mass in the university’s Caldwell Hall, followed by a bilingual recitation of the Rosary in Tagalog — the language spoken by many in the Philippines — and in English, as well as a weeklong bake sale to raise money for the Red Cross in the Philippines. The Filipino Organization of Catholic University Students — of which de la Paz is vice president — was key in organizing the response.

De la Paz, whose parents came to the United States from the Philippines, said that the Mass was arranged quickly, and the students didn’t have much time to get out the word. Nevertheless, there was a standing-room-only crowd. “It was beautiful to see the support from the Catholic University community,” said de la Paz.

Like other Catholic college students, de la Paz, a 21-year-old nursing major, believes that being at a Catholic college has increased his desire to help others. “It is so important for us to experience the faith and learn in a Catholic environment. At Catholic University, we are able to absorb all the moral teachings of the Church.” Such teachings, the student said, make students want to do more for others.

De la Paz said that the atmosphere on a Catholic campus fosters a desire to do charitable work. He is particularly inspired by adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. There are two adoration liturgies every week on campus. One is sung adoration, a new experience for some students, according to De la Paz.

“Coming to CUA has made us aware of these liturgies and taught us a lot of the wonderful prayers,” he said.


Family Inspirations

Sometimes Catholic college and university students find the inspiration for their charitable initiatives closer to home. Matt Martinusen, a student at John Paul the Great Catholic University in Escondido, Calif., was so affected by the stories his adopted brother Maks told about growing up in poverty in Russia that Martinusen became determined to do something for children like Maks.

“I wanted to do something that impacted the culture for Christ,” said Martinusen. “That is our stated mission at John Paul the Great.”

So Martinusen launched Brother Maks, which will sell affordable neckties to help orphans worldwide. They intended to start small, providing socks, a basic but often overlooked need. The first batch of ties, designed by Martinusen, is available now.

Similarly inspired, James Roche, a junior at Catholic University, launched an effort to raise money for Bethlehem Home, a refuge for at-risk or disabled children in Jamaica that is run by the Missionaries of the Poor. Roche has volunteered at Bethlehem Home, but another impetus for his initiative was the death last year of his sister Caitlin, who suffered from cerebral palsy and epilepsy.

The Roche family seeks to raise $29,000 for Bethlehem Home — a thousand dollars for every year of Caitlin’s life — and is now at $11,000. “People have just been sending checks made out to the Missionaries of the Poor to my parents,” he said. Roche said that working at Bethlehem Home was “really important” to him.

“We spent a lot of time just loving the kids,” he said. “Some had been abandoned, and some had families that just couldn’t care for them.”


Continuing Contributions

Sometimes activities launched by students live on after the founder has graduated.

A ministry to homeless people was started several years ago by a student at the Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio that encourages students to come forward with ideas for charitable activities. Ben Shoup, a current Steubenville student, doesn’t remember the name of the student who originally approached the university with the idea, but he says the ministry is valuable.

Shoup is part of a group of Steubenville students who go to an overpass in Pittsburgh to deliver help — from food to a willingness to listen — to homeless people. “There is so much brokenness out there,” he said. “There is so much loneliness. Somebody said to me the other day, ‘You’re the only person I’ve talked to this week.’”

Shoup said that the ministry to the homeless has been, in many instances, “transformational.” One of the men the group served is a man with a criminal record, who told the Steubenville group that they had inspired him to help others, just as they were doing. He began doing cleaning and other menial tasks for others and encouraging people not to do the kinds of things that had sent him to prison.

Shoup attributes his interest in the homeless ministry to “the atmosphere, the priests and the sacraments” at Franciscan.

Said Shoup, “There came the point when I felt so loved by the Lord that I wanted to do something for him.”

Charlotte Hays writes from Washington.