Young tutor has lots to teach about value of helping


By Ellen Keohane

“I’m not nearly as shy as I used to be,” Cassandra Regan said. The 18-year-old Loyola School senior and West Village resident said that volunteering has helped her become less reticent with strangers. “The whole thing has really helped me a lot,” she said.

Students who attend Loyola, a coeducational Jesuit high school on the Upper East Side, are required to complete a certain number of volunteer hours each year, but Regan has far surpassed the minimum requirement. She was recently honored with a state-level certificate of excellence from the Prudential Spirit of Community Awards for her volunteer work.

In a navy blazer with a Loyola patch, Regan sat and talked, a little nervously, about her various volunteer projects on a recent Monday afternoon. In addition to participating in volunteering trips to Camden, N.J., and West Virginia, Regan organized a mentor program between Loyola and St. Joseph’s School, a parochial school in the Village.

Regan first started volunteering at St. Joseph’s, her old elementary school, on Washington Pl. at Sixth Ave., during her sophomore year at Loyola, she said. She returned her junior year and brought some friends with her.

“As the year went on, people realized they needed to finish their [volunteer] hours, so some of my friends started going with me,” she said.

It became difficult to organize everyone who wanted to go, so this year Regan worked directly with St. Joseph’s Principal Donna Gabella to make the mentoring program more formal.

“Now people have set days when they have to go, and they have to go on those days,” Regan said. “They have a teacher that they’re set up with, so they keep working with the same kids.” This year about 25 students from Loyola participated in the program, she said.

In addition to volunteering at St. Joseph’s, Regan has also participated in a variety of service trips with her school, including several to Camden, N.J. Most recently, Regan spent her spring break in West Virginia, where she volunteered with Habit for Humanity.

In Camden, Regan volunteered at homeless shelters and retirement homes, as well as a nursery school. Volunteering in Camden, which has been ranked as one of the country’s most dangerous cities, was an eye-opening experience, Regan said.

“A lot of my beliefs have changed after going on so many Camden trips and so many service trips,” she said.

In Camden, the students would take tours and see things like Section 8 housing across the street from a toxic waste site, she said.

“So all the kids [in the neighborhood] get asthma and everyone gets sick, but they can’t afford to get medication or go see doctors, so it gets worse,” she said. “It hurts them developmentally, so when they go to school they have problems learning — it’s like a bad cycle.”

Regan is currently training a Loyola junior to take over the St. Joseph’s mentoring program when she leaves. However, this may be the last year that Loyola students will volunteer at St. Joseph’s. The Catholic Archdiocese of New York recently announced that it may close the school, along with many others, at the end of this year. If St. Joseph’s closes, Loyola students plan to continue the program at a different school that might need their help, Regan said.

In addition to her volunteer activities, Regan has other responsibilities at Loyola. An editor for her school’s literary magazine, she is busy working on the next issue.

“Right now I’m racking my brain to get the lit mag out,” she said. “I’m one of the senior editors this year and we have less than a month to finish it.”

Next year Regan plans to attend the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, where she wants to major in early childhood education.

“My dream,” she said, “is to have a day care for low-income families with programs in development to help kids coming from those places get into schools like Loyola.”