Jesuit-Educated Graduates Provide Shelter and Support in Local Community

This article was originally published in the May 2021 edition of Connections, a publication of the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities (AJCU). 

A Jesuit education is one that infuses principles set forth by St. Ignatius of Loyola into every aspect of educational life—from academics, to student activities and beyond. Whether Saint Peter’s University students realize it or not, all of their experiences with the University are rooted in the characteristics of Jesuit education: cura personalis (care for the whole person); formation of people for and with others; and Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (AMDG: the motto of the Society of Jesus that means “for the greater glory of God”).

One particular example is how the Jersey City community, in which Saint Peter’s is located, is benefitting from the University’s Jesuit-educated students and alumni, who are doing their part to prevent homelessness in their community.

Samantha Martinez-Mendoza was presented with The Magis Award for her interest in social justice and gender studies at the Saint Peter’s University Michaelmas Convocation in 2019. Pictured from left is David Surrey, Ph.D., professor of sociology, urban studies and anthropology; Devin Heyward, Ph.D., director of gender and sexuality studies; Samantha Martinez-Mendoza ’20; and Joseph McLaughlin, Ed.D. ’77, professor and chair of sociology and urban studies.

Cura Personalis
Samantha Martinez-Mendoza ’20 started at Saint Peter’s as a nursing major, but felt a little lost when the program wasn’t what she expected it to be. Martinez-Mendoza knew she wanted to help people, but wasn’t sure how to do that if she wasn’t a nurse.

She was unsure of what her academic future held, until she met a Saint Peter’s faculty member whom she refers to as “her angel:” David Surrey, Ph.D., a professor of sociology, urban studies and anthropology. Dr. Surrey helped Martinez-Mendoza to realize her passion for helping others, and which academic programs could help her to achieve that goal. Last year, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in sociology with minors in gender and sexuality studies, and anthropology.

Martinez-Mendoza truly experienced cura personalis during her time at Saint Peter’s. She wasn’t just another student who slipped through the cracks, but was given the support and encouragement she needed to succeed. This experience helped her to excel and make a difference in her career today. She currently serves as a housing case manager for the United Way of Hudson County (UWHC), a community-based, non-profit organization that has improved the lives of the most vulnerable residents in Hudson County, New Jersey. UWHC serves the basic needs of economically-insufficient individuals by providing them with food, clothing and shelter. Martinez-Mendoza makes sure to give all of her clients the care and personal attention they need, similar to what she experienced as a student at Saint Peter’s.

People For and With Others
Cassandra Iverson ’14 embraced service from the very start of her time at Saint Peter’s. She participated in every campus ministry community service project she could find, such as Midnight Runs, in which volunteers engaged in late-night relief efforts to provide local homeless with food and clothing. She volunteered as a “Junkyard Dog” and spent days cleaning the streets of Jersey City. She also spent her time working in The Campus Kitchen at Saint Peter’s, a program that takes unused food and repackages it into healthy meals to feed those struggling with hunger.

Iverson even took a two-week service trip to Quito, Ecuador with the Saint Peter’s Global Outreach Team to work for the Working Boys Center (WBC), a Jesuit ministry that supports working boys and girls and their families. When she was interviewed about her trip in 2013, she explained, “One of my paths may lead me – quite happily – back to the WBC as a year-long volunteer or, perhaps, to another organization for others.”

Eight years later, this quote proved to be true because Iverson continues to make a tremendous impact on others, now in the Jersey City community. She currently serves as the secretary of Rebuilding Together Jersey City, a non-profit home rehabilitation organization.

“Being a part of Rebuilding Together Jersey City is one way that I can do my part in helping my fellow men and women in the community to really live in safety, comfort and independence,” said Iverson. “We have a focus on veterans, the elderly, and families. It is really important to me that these members of our community are taken care of when they need it.”

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam
Karyn Barrera ’21 will be graduating this May with a degree in sociology and anthropology. She laments that she was not able to participate in every student activity and service project that she would have liked to throughout her college career, due to other pressing priorities.

While Barrera was focused on being a student, she was also tasked with working to help support her family, especially her younger sister. Now that she is coming to the end of her career at Saint Peter’s, she has found herself in an unexpected role in which she continues to put others first. Barrera currently serves as an intern and caseworker for the UWHC. She has been specifically hired to help house individuals who have become homeless as a result of the pandemic.

While this wasn’t the exact path Barrera had in mind with her major, she is very proud and humbled in her new role. She explained, “Each day you get ready for work or school and worry about not having the right shoes or the right bag, but working in this role truly opens your eyes to see that some people don’t even have access to the most basic resources. I am here to help these individuals who were lost get back into society.”

Saint Peter’s takes great pride in what these Jesuit-educated students accomplished during their college careers and the impact they continue to make in the community in which the University serves.