Service and Success Beyond SJC

On March 8, Mary McCarthy ’12, Jillian Griffith ’10 and David Street ’04 returned to campus to speak with the senior class about their service careers. Even though each has pursued a different profession, they are all driven by their passion to build community through helping those in need. 

McCarthy, returning for a third year to speak with SJC seniors, works for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington as a housing advocate for the Rapid Re-housing Program in Montgomery County. She told the students of the pivotal role her Lasallian background and college experience played in helping her find her service career niche. While attending St. Mary’s College of Maryland, McCarthy found that engaging in college service activities helped her cope with the stress of her studies and final exams.
However, her life took a turn when she realized she wouldn’t be able to graduate on time. And then it happened. “I was offered an internship at a transitional shelter with Catholic Charities, and I fell in love with the work,” she said. Her current position involves helping people to find housing and then subsidize their housing for a few months. This funding comes from the Catholic Church and through donations and grants. McCarthy stated, “The movement in the nation is ‘housing first.’ Then we deal with the rest of it. I am so blessed to be able to do this.”
With doctors as parents, Griffith has always been influenced by and interested in the health field. At college, she studied nutrition, and during her graduate work at Georgetown University, she focused on public health and cancer prevention work. During her studies, she became intrigued by the possibility of providing people with a prescription for free food and vegetables. With a desire to serve at the community level and meet people where they are having the most interaction with food, Griffith chose to become an in-store nutritionist and recently started working for Giant Food, Inc., at a store location in Ward 8.
From her earlier work at a needle distribution center in the South Bronx, NY, Griffith knew that many people living poor urban areas did not have access to fresh food and experienced food insecurity. “Nutrition doesn’t matter if people’s basic needs aren’t being met,” she said. As a public health nutritionist and retail dietitian, her work at Giant includes collaborating with the store to stock healthier products and helping Giant build a nutrition program for the local residents. “Let your passion fuel your work, and it will take you far,” she told the seniors.
Min. David Street, who also presented to last year’s seniors, is a Washington, DC, native and the deputy director of grassroots organizing (Eastern region) for Bread for the World, the country’s leading nonprofit combating hunger and poverty. An associate minister at Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in NW, DC, he also serves as the executive director for P.E.N. (Promote, Enrich and Nurture) DMV, a faith-based nonprofit that specializes in mentoring and STEM instruction for middle and high school youth living in Washington, DC. When not traveling around the world to promote and facilitate legislative change to end poverty and hunger in the world, Street mentors young men, focusing on the importance of digital citizenship.
He told the students about his early childhood growing up in Ward 7 and how the diversity of St. John’s was somewhat of a culture shock for him. When he began attending St. John’s, he was very uncomfortable, which triggered disciplinary problems and forced him to decide if he really wanted to stay at the school and work through his issues. He made the choice to stay; however, the discomfort he felt during his high school years has remained a galvanizing force in his life. He said, “Make yourself uncomfortable and that is probably your calling – to bring attention to that injustice. When you start doing those things that make you uncomfortable, the world is yours – great things are going to happen.”
Following the presentations, the alumni answered questions from the groups. One student asked the presenters how St. John’s impacted their college experience. McCarthy emphasized the SJC network as well as the large Catholic school network. She commented that the network has helped her professionally, stressing the importance of staying connected. Griffith praised St. John’s for providing her a with a strong academic and social foundation. She described SJC as “a big melting pot,” noting that the school’s diversity prepared her to be comfortable interacting with people from all different backgrounds. Street stated, “St. John’s helped me get my act together” and encouraged the students to take advantage of the school’s resources.   
Another student asked each alum to share the moment or experience at SJC that had the biggest impact on their future careers. For McCarthy, that moment came during Poverty Education Week her junior year. Listening to the stories of the speakers from the National Coalition for the Homeless changed her view of people experiencing homelessness. She learned the many reasons people fall into homelessness and the loss of dignity that accompanies that predicament. Street spoke of the senior Kairos retreat, which provided him and his classmates the opportunity to experience one another in a vulnerable, authentic way. Griffith recalled the impact of Coach Patterson’s honors English class, which challenged her and prepared her for college courses. She reminded the students to always be open to learning throughout their lives.