Group Spotlight: Volunteers in Action strives to broaden S.M.I.L.E.s


Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Volunteers in Action (VIA) has still found ways to be active in community service work.

Carter Cerretani, Staff Writer

From walking dogs to writing Christmas cards, Volunteers in Action is still trying to make a difference in the community despite the constraints of COVID-19.

The Volunteers in Action (VIA) is Marywood’s community service club, founded in 1988. According to Angelina Balestino, a student officer for the VIA, the group currently has about 30 to 50 members.

“Because the activities we have varied so much, some of our volunteers regularly participate in things like going to the animal shelter, whereas other volunteers choose to go to one-time activities and events,” said Balestino.

During the semesters under COVID-19 regulations, many of the places where the VIA would normally volunteer, such as assisted living and nursing homes, were closed off to visitors. Despite these restrictions, Balestino said the VIA has found other ways to continue volunteering in the community. For example, the group was able to send cards to various elderly homes and hospitals.

More recently, the group has branched out due to the loosening of restrictions to serving at additional locations such as animal shelters and the Pacer Pantry. Assistant Director for Service-Learning and Community Service Ann O’Brien said that student officers have been volunteering as dog walkers at the Griffin Pond Animal Shelter.

However, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry Sr. John Michele Southwick, IHM said it has not been easy for the club to adjust its normal community service activities for the pandemic.

“We’re trying to find any way possible to connect our students with people who are struggling during COVID,” said Southwick.

A significant project for the VIA during COVID-19 was Project S.M.I.L.E. or Sharing Marywood’s Incredible Love Everywhere.

O’Brien explained that this project involved committing random acts of kindness, such as making Christmas and Easter cards. They have also placed paper bags filled with post-it notes with inspiring quotes around campus.

According to Southwick, the VIA started this project to give people reasons to smile during these troubling times.

“They were trying to help as many students as they could in any way that they could,” said Southwick.

Another act of kindness that the VIA performed was giving thank you pizzas to workers who cleared out snow during the winter.

Recently, more volunteers have joined the VIA. Due to this, Balestino and Southwick anticipate even more will join as the weather clears up and more outdoor activities are available. For now, the VIA is preparing for warmer weather and has volunteered for cleanups on campus for the spring.

For more information on the VIA, watch for emails labeled as Connect & Serve. Students interested in joining the club can email the VIA at [email protected].

Contact the writer: [email protected]