February 08, 2010

Student volunteer earns prestigious internship

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Despite being a busy senior at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Antoinette Manzella, or Toni as she’s known to friends, has devoted 1,600 hours to community service and volunteer work in the past 18 months.

Now, for her efforts and to help her in her goal of continuing to make a difference in the world, she earned the privilege of attending the prestigious Institute on Philanthropy and Voluntary Service through The Fund for American Studies (TFAS) this summer in Washington, D.C. The social work and psychology major even earned a $2,000 scholarship to attend the program June 6-July 31.

Mythili Rundblad, coordinator of student development at SIUC, said she nominated Manzella for the very selective internship “based on her outstanding record of service combined with the excellent leadership skills she has consistently demonstrated.”

The daughter of Kathy and the late Tony Manzella of New Lenox, Toni said what sparked her interest in volunteerism initially wasn’t totally altruistic. When she was a senior in high school, she joined a church mission trip to provide Hurricane Katrina relief thinking it would give her the much-appreciated opportunity to travel while enjoying the “bonus” of being able to help people.

Now, she said it’s the other way around. If there’s travel involved, it’s just a side benefit to being able to help others, she says.

“It’s like this overwhelming feeling of selflessness and pride you get when you help other people. You really can’t understand or appreciate it until you experience it and you totally can’t get it any other way,” Manzella said.

She said a pivotal moment in her life occurred during that trip to Mississippi to aid hurricane survivors. She helped a woman living in a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer who had lost everything she owned.

“I realized I was making a difference. People can benefit from the efforts of others,” she said.

Another of those special moments happened just a few weeks ago during the University’s AmeriCorps “Drive Up and Drop Off Donation Drive” on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Manzella was astounded at the generosity of the community donating “tons of stuff” to help local charitable organizations.

She and the other volunteers sorted and delivered items to various locations but when she was making a drop-off at the Women’s Center, a woman who was staying there with her teenage sons asked if there was any men’s clothing in the bag. Manzella said they’d delivered the donated men’s clothing to another locale, assuming greater need for it there.

But, here was a mother with teen boys needing clothing. Manzella talked to her fellow volunteers and discovered a $40 monetary donation had arrived late in the drive so they quickly purchased jeans and a couple of T-shirts for each of the boys.

“The mom just cried when she saw it. It was really a touching experience,” Manzella said.

Since August 2008, Manzella has been active in the Saluki Volunteer Corps and Land of Lincoln AmeriCorps at SIUC. She led the effort to get the Habitat for Humanity Registered Student Organization active again and has helped the Jackson-Union County Habitat for Humanity with community projects. She volunteers at the Good Samaritan House soup kitchen and as a rape crisis intervention counselor at the Women’s Center, providing medical and legal advocacy for sexual assault victims. She earned the President’s Volunteer Service Award last year after logging more than 100 hours of community service.

And that doesn’t take into account her work through AmeriCorps. She tutors third graders at Unity Point School in Carbondale, teaches social skills to kindergarten, multi-age and first grade classes and helps coach the seventh grade girls’ volleyball team. Last year, she tutored fifth and sixth graders at Du Quoin Middle School on reading and language arts and coached sixth grade volleyball. Each year, she logs more than 900 hours in AmeriCorps service.

But, while her commitment to volunteerism and public service is intense, Manzella is trying to determine where to channel her efforts and that’s why she welcomes the chance to participate in the internship. She expects to graduate in May 2011 with bachelor’s degrees in social work and psychology and then attend graduate school, preferably earning her master’s in social work in a nationally ranked program.

“In the next couple of years I’m hoping to figure out my niche in the social work field and take it from there. I’m very excited to see what the future holds for me,” she said.

She wrote in her internship application that her goal in attending the institute is “figuring out what to do with the rest of my life as an aspiring non-profit professional, enhancing my passion for volunteerism and acquiring as much knowledge as I can while living and interning in our nation’s capital.”

Manzella said she hopes to make new friends and enjoy Washington, D.C., while gaining “new insight into which career path I would prefer to traverse as well as meet new and diverse individuals already working in the non-profit sector who could potentially provide assistance in my future career plans.”

The internship includes 30-35 hours each week working at a non-profit organization or charity and taking two classes at Georgetown University while living on campus. She’ll plan service projects, organize fundraising activities and more. She believes the educational opportunities will “open my eyes to the many possibilities that await me in the future.”

Selection of internship participants, who must submit detailed and lengthy applications, is on the basis of “ambition, strong academic performance, leadership ability, maturity and involvement in campus and community activities,” according to The Fund for American Studies Web site. Scholarship awards generally require faculty or staff nomination and the criteria include financial need, academic excellence, extracurricular achievement and leadership activities.