SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. – As the culmination of a six-month long initiative, Seton Hall University student-athletes hosted a group of students from St. Francis Xavier School in Newark on Friday afternoon, spending the day interacting and playing games with the participants in the SHU Athletics pen pal program.
Now in its 19th consecutive year as a part of the SHU student-athlete experience, the 2012-13 version of the program was spearheaded by the two graduate assistants in Seton Hall’s Academic Support Services office, Marissa Muoio and Zachary Romash, with the aid of junior men’s soccer player John Gurel.
Earlier in the fall, the Academic Support Services office was inundated with a surplus of volunteers from the Pirates’ 14 varsity programs, forcing a random drawing to determine this year’s representatives.
Once the program began in November, the selected student-athletes and students from St. Francis Xavier exchanged correspondence every two weeks. Each time letters were sent from Seton Hall, Muoio and Romash traveled to St. Francis to hand-deliver them, accompanied by a current Pirate who would then speak to the seventh-grade class regarding the importance of academics, the responsibilities associated with being a young adult and provide insight on the life of a student-athlete.
Introduced by SHU Athletics Hall of Famer and former Director of Academic Support Services Robin Cunningham in 1994, the core values behind the formation of the program have transcended the dramatic cultural shifts that have defined the past two decades.
“Letter writing is an invaluable skill,” said Matthew Geibel, a longtime member and the current director of the Academic Support Services office. “Given the technological explosion and our dependence on alternate modes of communication, letter writing has almost become a lost art in this digital age. Through this program, we are able to provide an outlet for the students of St. Francis Xavier and our current student-athletes to hone their writing abilities.”
“There are a number of mutual benefits that go beyond the page as well,” Geibel continued. “I think the kids learn a lot from the relationships they develop with each other and overall, the program helps reinforce the importance of giving back to the community.”
Friday’s event, which was held in the Fieldhouse of the Richie Regan Athletics Center, brought the program full circle and provided the opportunity to strengthen the relationships that have been forged over the past six months.
“I had a lot of fun playing games with the pen pals today and teaching them about my sport,” said sophomore Stacey Manthorpe, a member of the volleyball team. “Through this program, we got the chance to mentor the kids and get to know them as well. A lot of them spoke about wanting to come to Seton Hall so we were able to answer their questions, share our own experiences and talk to them about the importance of continuing to work hard.”
“I really enjoyed the experience of writing to my pen pal over the course of the semester,” added men’s soccer freshman Lucas Della Ventura. “I couldn’t wait to meet him and today was not a disappointment. I think we each took a lot away from getting to know one another that will help us both in the future.”