Widener Students Make a Difference through Virtual Civic Engagement
Civic engagement is woven into the fabric of Widener University.
Each year, students donate their time and talent to making a positive impact, locally and globally.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have changed the way they give back, but not their commitment. In fact, many students and student-run organizations are more determined than ever to make a difference at a time when it’s needed most.
Working with its community partners, Widener’s Center for Civic and Global Engagement has helped facilitate the transition to virtual civic engagement.
Through websites, apps, and video conferencing, students are still doing this important work.
“There is no better time to be maintaining these connections and bonds,” said Gretchen Mielke, assistant dean for civic engagement.
Ariana Hurtado-Day ’23 is one of several students continuing to volunteer with Chester Eastside, an organization that provides, among other services, afterschool programming and tutoring for local children. The work has moved to a virtual format.
This is a great opportunity just knowing the little things I can do to change kids’ lives. And it’s important for these kids to know I’m not leaving their lives. — Ariana Hurtado-Day ’23
“He calls me to tell me ‘I’m playing this game or that.’ He’s really cute, so positive through everything,” said Hurtado-Day, a member of Widener’s Presidential Service Corps Bonner Leaders program. “Seeing him grow over time, I tell him I’m so proud of him.”
From home, Arianna McRae ’21, an allied health major and aspiring physician assistant, is writing letters of encouragement to health care workers and patients at Penn Medicine Hospice. Each letter is accompanied with an origami butterfly she creates.
“(Hospice patients) can’t have their family see them (due to visitor restrictions). They feel like they’re alone. With this, they know someone is still thinking of them,” said McRae.
With the loss of jobs and income, many Americans are struggling to put food on the table, placing great strain on food pantries. Widener students are stepping in.
The university’s chapter of Alpha Phi Omega (APO), a co-educational service organization, is running a food and supplies drive to benefit CityTeam Chester. Through the website You Give Goods, participants purchase products and the site ships them directly to CityTeam.
“It’s very important for us to keep trying to do something,” said Matthew Lomas ’21, APO president. “Not all of us are from Chester, but all of us think of Chester as our second home.”
Jessica Feoli ’21, an international business major and PSC Bonner, is volunteering to do remote marketing work for Caring for Friends, a Philadelphia food pantry. And through her internship with Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s development department, she has joined its 31-Day Challenge to run 100 miles in May to raise money for CHOP’s Children’s Fund.
“I’ve always been passionate about giving back,” said Feoli. “And I love how Widener is such an advocate for service.”
Psychology major Madeleine DiDonato ’21 is continuing to make an impact through Family & Community Service of Delaware County, a multi-service counseling agency.
Before COVID-19, DiDonato worked with the organization to help educate people about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and handed out educational materials and contraception.
Today, she’s helping to create a community advisory board and is surveying people to gauge which services are most needed.
“If everyone brings something to the table it’s the only way you get a full table, said DiDonato, noting that the organization’s clients are particularly vulnerable in this crisis.
Under normal circumstances, Widener students who participate in service say the experiences help them hone the skills needed for life and career, including communication and leadership development. In this climate, they’re also learning the value of flexibility.
“This has taught me to step back,” said Lomas, “to look at everything we’re doing now. How can we do it better?”
And continuing civic engagement can also help students weather the uncertain job market, said Mielke.
“Service can be a pathway to your profession in this COVID-19 environment. It’s a great way to build professional skills and connections,” she said.