Gannon University Students Make a Service Trip to Capitol Hill

Posted: December 8, 2017

Most Gannon University students return home after finals week, but a group of dedicated students instead headed to Washington, D.C. for a week of service at the Father McKenna Center, a nonprofit social agency serving the poor and and those experiencing homelessness, followed by meetings on Capitol Hill to talk about what they learned.

The students met with staffers from the office of Pennsylvania’s junior senator, Pat Toomey and with James Marsh, a 2016 Gannon graduate who is the staffer on housing issues in the office of Mike Kelly, the U.S. Representative for the 3rd Congressional District that includes portions of Erie County.

Jessie Badach Hubert, the assistant director of Gannon’s Center for Social Concerns, called Marsh, who was active in Campus Ministry as a student, “a good friend of the Center’s. He watched his peers have these transformative service trip experiences, and in thinking about faith, reason and political life, he now works to seek positive community impact. It was cool that this former student who was living his possibility could meet our students where he’s at as they dip their toes in to political engagement, many for the first time.”

Hubert described the goal of the service trip this way: “We wanted the students to see how service connects with civic engagement and political action, to see the wholeness of the enterprise through all those lenses. Working at the Father McKenna Center builds empathy, understanding and compassion so that students lead with curiosity and compassion rather than with fear when they meet someone who is living on the street. It’s the service of presence.”

Joseph Mokwa, a May graduate in social work from Erie, was one of those students. Mokwa, who now works as an AmeriCorps VISTA, was deeply moved and humbled by the experience. “It’s one thing to talk about homelessness or to watch a presentation, but to encounter it personally, there’s a beauty in it. It’s more rewarding to directly serve,” he said.

The service trip to the nation’s capital was the second for Mokwa, who also participated in a service experience at the Glenmary Group Volunteer Program in Tennessee. He counts these experiences as pivotal signposts on the path to a career.

“What pointed me to VISTA was my service projects and the responsibilities I obtained throughout my college career, especially my social change fellowship partnering with a community organization that was working problems that stem from poverty.” 

Would Mokwa follow Marsh into government?  He’s not sure, but he is certain that service of some kind will remain a large part of his life going forward. “I always thought of service as hard, nitty gritty work, but the service of presence can be just as valuable.”