The Spirit of Charity
This story originally appeared in the 2020 Annual Report.
Most graduates of Mount Saint Vincent have a story to tell about a Sister of Charity who enriched their life. Whether it was in the classroom, around the lunch table, or while walking the hills of campus, the Sisters of Charity have had—and continue to have—a profound impact on the lives of students and thousands of our alumnae/i. The Ad Lux campaign has institutionalized two scholarship programs that aim to be an extension of their good works.
The Seton Service and Leadership Program (SSLP)—a four-year, full room and board scholarship created through the sponsorship of the Sisters of Charity—is awarded to students who show dedication and promise in the areas of academics, service, and leadership. Students in the SSLP mentor one another both as individuals and as a cohort, serve at various ministries in New York City and across the country, and spend time in weekly reflective gatherings.
Program participants join a community of like-minded peers who serve together and embrace the mission of the Sisters of Charity—carrying on the legacy and ministries of the Sisters through the spirit of Saints Elizabeth Ann Seton, Vincent de Paul, and Louise de Marillac.
Since 2011, 46 SSLP alums and 35 current SSLP students have participated in over 25,000 hours of community service across the globe. Some students partner with the Midnight Run organization, based in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., to deliver food and clothing to the homeless population on the streets of Manhattan at 1 a.m. Others raise environmental awareness through advocacy events and clean-ups with the NYC Parks Department. One student, Jennifer Puac ’21, even traveled to Ecuador on a Gilman Scholarship to study and serve, mentoring children in a rural neighborhood.
As one of Mount Saint Vincent’s most recent Gilman Scholars, Jennifer Puac ’21 gained the opportunity to study and serve abroad in Ecuador last Spring. Even though her time in South America was cut short by the coronavirus pandemic, she still had the opportunity to travel to places like the Galapagos Islands and mentor children in a rural neighborhood.
Many Seton Service and Leadership Program participants continue their devotion to service even after they leave the Mount’s campus—a true testament to the College’s remarkable Leaders in Service initiative. These alumnae/i are carrying on the mission of the Sisters of Charity in their chosen career fields and spreading the Spirit of Charity in their daily lives.
Alumna Amy Fox ’15 currently works as a social worker for the New York City Department of Education at an elementary school in Jamaica, Queens. It was through her time in the SSLP that she found her passion for social work.
Amy Fox ’15 currently serves as a consultant with the Hance Family Foundation’s Self-Esteem Rising Leaders. The Foundation, with roots in Amy’s hometown of Floral Park, Long Island, provides scholarships and educational workshops for young girls from elementary school through college. In February 2014, she organized a workshop to bring the Foundation’s flagship Self-Esteem Rising Program, Beautiful Me, to students at the College.
“Volunteering as a member of the Seton Service and Leadership Program helped deepen my commitment to service and led me into the field of social work,” explained Amy. “Participating in service further taught me the incredible impact one person can make on another person’s life. I carry this lesson with me throughout my career as a social worker, but also in my life as a sister, daughter, friend, girlfriend, and even as a stranger to others.”
For alum Owen Smith ’18, all paths seemed to lead back to Riverdale. After taking a year to work as an account manager for a food distribution company in Manhattan, Owen returned home to Mount Saint Vincent to work as a graduate assistant in the College’s Office of Mission and Ministry—mentoring new members of the SSLP. He also made a commitment as an Associate of the Sisters of Charity in September 2018.
Owen is now working as an Assistant Director in the Office of Peace, Justice, and Integrity of Creation for the Sisters of Charity of New York—continuing to foster and build upon the connection he made with the Sisters during his time in the SSLP.
Owen Smith ’18 has traveled to Ethiopia twice to teach English to children as part of the Vincentian Lay Missionaries. As an Associate of Charity, Owen has made a commitment to serve those on the margins not only here in New York City, but around the globe. He hopes to return to Africa again when travel is safe.
“My experience as a member of the SSLP introduced me to the Vincentian charism, provided leadership opportunities in ministries to people experiencing homelessness and our veterans, and gave me a built in community of friends who were also committed to the mission of the Sisters of Charity,” remarked Owen.
“Through the SSLP, I was able to grow and become more flexible, responsive, and collaborative when approaching different areas of service. I’m lucky to still be so connected to the Sisters today—working alongside them to advocate for human dignity and respond to the signs of the times.”
Service at the Mount is not just an extracurricular activity—it’s an essential component of the College’s most fundamental values and the charism of the Sisters of Charity. Service to the local community extends far beyond participants in the SSLP, engaging all members of the campus community in conversations about our global commitment to human dignity.
The second program, the Mott Street Scholarship Program, is named for the Sisters of Charity’s first mission—the Roman Catholic Orphan Asylum—which was established in 1817 on the corner of Prince and Mott Streets in New York City. The program serves talented students who have persevered through foster care or homelessness and who are educationally and emotionally ready for college.
Social services and public support available to these individuals typically end when they reach 18 years of age. At this point, many of these young people find themselves on their own—trying to figure out the next step when all else is in flux.
Funding for the Mott Street Scholarship covers tuition, room and board, fees, textbooks, a laptop, and insurance for each student in the program. Additionally, the Mount provides supplementary academic and emotional counseling services and the fundamental tools for success.
“Mott Street Scholars have experienced unimaginable traumas and have been forced to make decisions no young person should have to make. There is no other program like this in the United States. We are transforming lives. And we are giving individuals an authentic opportunity to be fully self-reliant and accomplish their goals.”
— President Emeritus Charles L. Flynn, Jr.
In 2015, the College began collaborating with Covenant House New York, an organization that cares for and shelters homeless and trafficked youth to identify young people eager to attend college, but who lack the financial resources and support to get there. Partnerships have since developed with other organizations in the New York metro area—including Covenant House New Jersey and Rising Ground.
Meeting the needs of each Mott Street Scholar is costly—exceeding $60,000 per year—but year-round housing for all four years of study finally gives these students a home here at Mount Saint Vincent.
“The College has a goal to enroll 10 new Mott Street Scholars each year. It is ambitious. But these young people are among the finest and most committed students the Mount has seen in its long history, and we are ready to support them in all their endeavors,” added Dr. Flynn.
Mott Street Scholars are immersed in college life, complete with the rich and varied opportunities that all Mount students enjoy.
There are currently 23 Mott Street scholars living and studying on campus. Ninety-five percent of them are in good academic standing. They give back over 500 hours of volunteer service to the local community each year.
Several are members of the Honors Program and scholastic honor societies. They are truly remarkable individuals. To date, five Mott Street Scholars have graduated. One completed a post-graduate year serving in a Sisters of Charity sponsored mission, a few are preparing for law and graduate school, and the remaining graduates are working as they begin to launch their desired careers.
The Ad Lux campaign sought to raise $5,000,000 to help sustain and grow the Mott Street Scholarship Program. Maureen A. Henegan ’78, a trustee of the College, helped facilitate the Mount’s partnership with Covenant House and funded the first endowed Mott Street Scholarship as part of her generosity to the Ad Lux campaign. Hundreds of alums and donors have followed in her footsteps—donating anywhere from $5 to $50,000 to support both annual and endowed Mott Street scholarships.
Additionally, Mount Saint Vincent, in partnership with Covenant House New Jersey, hosted its first Annual Sleep Out in April 2019—which raised nearly $30,000 in support of Mott Street Scholars and their ambitions. The Sleep Out is an act of solidarity. It draws attention to the limited educational resources available to those who persist through foster care and/or homelessness and supports the educational cost of every Mott Street Scholar.
“I participated in the Mount’s first Sleep Out last year and it was a very humbling experience. I know that homelessness is a pertinent issue—especially here in New York—but my eyes were opened to the hardships students have faced right here on campus.”
— Hadisa Chowdhury ’21
The second annual Sleep Out, which was scheduled for April 17, 2020, was unfortunately postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By sleeping out, we are committing ourselves to the College’s mission through our understanding of our common humanity, our commitment to human dignity, and our obligations to one another,” said Lynne Bongiovanni, Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs/Dean of the College. “The College is eager to continue our relationship with Covenant House New Jersey and we are looking forward to rescheduling our next Sleep Out when it is safe to do so.”
On a rainy night in April 2019, Mount students and staff participated in the College’s first annual Sleep Out. Raising awareness for youth homelessness and standing in solidarity with their peers, students spent the night outside and raised nearly $30,000 to support the Mott Street Scholarship Program on campus.
Mott Street Scholars are Leaders in Service, often working alongside students in the Seton Service and Leadership Program.
These programs are just two examples of the College’s living mission—evident in the unwavering commitment to social justice of both current students and alumnae/i. The faithfulness and tenacity of the Sisters of Charity lives on through these programs, and funding raised through the Ad Lux campaign assures the principles established by our founders live on for years to come.
About the College of Mount Saint Vincent
Founded in 1847 by the Sisters of Charity, the College of Mount Saint Vincent offers nationally recognized liberal arts education and a select array of professional fields of study on a landmark campus overlooking the Hudson River. Committed to the education of the whole person, and enriched by the unparalleled cultural, educational, and career opportunities of New York City, the College equips students with the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary for lives of professional accomplishment, service, and leadership in the 21st century.