Owen Rigney ’20 Participates in Lasallian Volunteer Program
April 13, 2021
With the pandemic continuing to affect college life across the country, recent CBA graduate Owen Rigney faced a tough decision as he considered taking a “gap year.”
After all, it was just last July when he ultimately was able to experience his Class of 2020 graduation, delayed by almost two months due to the pandemic.
“My thought process when making the decision [in spring 2020] was that the virus was unpredictable and there was no vaccine in sight yet,” Rigney said. “I thought it would be a good time to learn lessons that I couldn’t learn in the classroom.”
Rigney reached out to CBA President Br. Frank Byrne to see if he had any suggestions or connections to volunteer programs. Brother Frank put him in touch with DENA’s Director of Mission & Ministry, Alan Weyland, who ultimately guided him towards a contact in Italy.
Fast forward to today, Rigney has been a Lasallian volunteer in Scampia, Italy for the past few months.
Living in a Lasallian community, he now teaches, tutors and mentors students in elementary, middle and high school. For much of the day, Rigney is teaching English to students as a second language. Many of the students speak Neapolitan, which is a dialect of standard Italian, so Rigney has one of the Brothers translate much of what he says during class time.
He has been living with two Brothers and another young Lasallian volunteer during his time there.
It is a long day for Rigney – with morning, afternoon and evening sessions – and much of it is spent working with students who have dropped out of traditional schooling.
“Even with their background, it is really amazing that they have such motivation and determination to succeed.”
Of course, he keeps the students engaged with games, trivia, and an Italian favorite, soccer.
Rigney felt comfortable jumping into this Lasallian volunteer role because of what was instilled in him while at the Academy.
“The Lasallian connection is definitely clear. At CBA, I was brothers with my classmates, and here, it is starting to feel like a family too.”
It was the service aspect of CBA that was the driving force behind his decision to take his current volunteer role. Rigney still points to a sophomore year service immersion trip to the Romero Center in Camden as a turning point in his view of volunteerism.
“I remember vividly how much I saw [in Camden] and how great it felt to give back. So when I saw this opportunity to do a similar thing in Scampia, I jumped at it.”
While he took the gap year to let the pandemic run its course at home, that doesn’t mean there haven’t been restrictions in Italy. Luckily, he has been able to meet with the students in-person for most of the year, which is critical since many of them come from low-income families.
He has been able to do some sightseeing, but his movement has been limited due to the varying limitations on travel. However, there is one thing he has been able to do plenty of: trying classic Italian foods.
“We have a lot of pasta, which is something to look forward to. I was able to go to Naples, see that city, and try their pizza.”