Located in the Lackawana River Valley in Northeastern Pennsylvania, Scranton is a city known for both industrial decline and vibrant renewal. Once a thriving industrial hub boasting the largest steel plant in the United States and the nation’s first continuously operated electrified streetcar system, the city eventually suffered from a diminishing coal industry and the loss of manufacturing jobs to the South and abroad.
The Scranton community, however, invested in the revitalization and growth of their beloved city. By creating a lively, walkable downtown with world-class cultural institutions, restaurants, and nightlife, the city began attracting young professionals interested in joining a close-knit and growing community. And the city has been growing: recent census data shows population growth of two percent in recent years.
Despite its recent renewal, however, Scranton still faces significant challenges. The majority of students in Scranton’s school district are classified as low income, and the poverty rate of the Scranton metro area’s Black residents is one of the highest in the country.
FJV Cathy Seymour (Belize 1990-92) and Patricia Vaccaro at the University of Scranton first recognized the need and opportunity for Jesuit Volunteers in a city like Scranton. With a tightknight community with the grit and determination to tackle its greatest challenges, Scranton was an obvious place in which young volunteers could provide vital service and learn to be leaders committed to justice. Under Cathy’s and Patricia’s leadership, JVC established Casa Guadalupe in 2011 to serve poor and marginalized communities in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Their work paid off. Each year, the Scranton JV community provides essential capacity to the region’s nonprofits, serving an average of 28,000 individuals and families with significant need. And JVC’s agency partners have come to rely on the talent and commitment of Jesuit Volunteers.
Dennis Mundt, former volunteer at St. Francis of Assisi Soup Kitchen, says Scranton “is a city filled with organizations that rely on JVs in order to fulfill their mission. At St. Francis, the JV is the manager of the food pantry, which has over 2,800 families in its system. Without having a fulltime JV in this position, it would be impossible for those
families to get the food they need.”
Meghan Loftus, the President and CEO of partner agency Friends of the Poor, agrees: “Our JVs have been absolute rock stars and key to our success. Without JVC, we simply could not serve the number of people who come to us in need each day.”
One such JV is Molly Fuchs (Scranton 2017-18). As a caseworker at United Neighborhood Centers, Molly has been critical to ensuring important programs and services remain available amid tight budgets and significant need. “I have been able to increase organizational capacity by implementing programs and taking on clients that have become too much for our social workers’ caseloads,” says Molly. “Having a JV allows my placement site to reach a larger population and in turn help make our
And it’s certainly not just Scranton that benefits from JVC’s investment in the community. Year over year, volunteers rate Scranton as one of the best JV cities of service due to the strong presence of FJVs, the welcoming local community, and the comprehensive social services environment.
As JV Jonathan Young describes, “The greater Scranton community and FJVs we’ve met have all welcomed and graced us with immense hospitality and have truly made where we live a home.”
His community-mate Theresa Puhr adds, “Over the years, the community has come together to build structures that help the most marginalized people in the area. The agencies often partner together to shape their services to the needs of individuals. And as Jesuit Volunteers, we certainly add to these partnerships.”
As Campus Minister for Social Justice at the University of Scranton and In-City Coordinator for the Scranton JV community, Cathy Seymour is critical to building those partnerships. With her help, almost 300 alumni of the university have performed vital service around the world through the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
University of Scranton’s Interim President Rev. Herbert B. Keller, SJ, believes the opportunity JVC provides is critical to forming alumni into young leaders: “Jesuit education is intended to be transformational at its core. At The University of Scranton we want our graduates to be “men and women for and with others” so that they can then go out and change the world for the better. Service experiences offered by JVC and other organizations play an important role in this process. We are truly blessed to have so many of our graduates express this genuine care for others through their commitment to long-term service at JVC.”
This piece was written by a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps Staff.