Lion Ambassadors at New Kensington undertake summer community service project

NEW KENSINGTON, Pa. -- Community service is the hallmark of the Lion Ambassadors’ mission at Penn State New Kensington. Members of the student club initiated a summer volunteer program June 4 at the Food Pantry at Mt. St. Peter Parish in New Kensington, Pa.

Five Lion Ambassadors, complemented by six campus administrators and staff, helped the organization package and distribute food to families and individuals in need. It was a chance for the campus to give back to the community and learn first-hand about poverty.

“It was great to see the students and staff jumping right in to help in any way they could,” said Corinne Coulson, enrollment services specialist and adviser to the club. “The Lion Ambassadors wanted a summer community service project that focused on poverty, which could then carry over into next fall/spring semesters in various ways.”

Lion Ambassadors is a student organization that acts on behalf of the campus. Club members work closely with the Enrollment Management Office to promote the campus to prospective students. They lead campus tours and assist with other recruitment activities. Additionally, Lion Ambassadors represent the campus in the community through volunteer and service activities. Membership in the organization involves an interview and maintenance of a minimum grade-point average.

Affiliated with the Westmoreland County Food Bank, the pantry is managed by volunteers at Mt. St. Peter. The food bank is a private non-profit organization that distributes food to needy families throughout Westmoreland County via a variety of programs. Volunteers distribute food once a month.

The campus coterie included senior Craig Synan, administration of justice major and president of the Lion Ambassadors; Matt Burtner, sophomore in psychology; Kayla Dowling, sophomore in undergraduate studies; Mikaela Dunegan, sophomore in nursing; Sandra Muhhuku, sophomore in petroleum and natural gas engineering; Andrea Adolph, director of academic affairs; Patty Brady, director of enrollment management; Candee Christy, administrative support assistant to the chancellor; Danielle DeStefano, assistant director of enrollment management; Karen Harlan, multimedia specialist; and Coulson.

Poverty in local neighborhoods is at the forefront of new initiatives by Kevin Snider, chancellor of the campus. Snider recently created a campus committee tasked with collaborating with nonprofit organizations to assist with poverty-related programs.

At the food pantry, getting food to those who need it was a two-part process. The morning hours were devoted to unloading a truck shipment from the Food Bank, putting together bags, and sorting and bagging various food items. In the afternoon, one group distributed the food to pantry clients while another group picked up items and carried bags for clients.  

Two of the Lion Ambassadors, Dunegan and Muhhuku, had experience at distributing food and connecting to the local community. Both traveled to Washington, D.C. in March for a project billed as an “Alternative Spring Break Trip.” They performed a variety of functions at food banks and soup kitchens throughout the nation’s capital and learned about the societal aspects of poverty.

By talking and listening to the people they were helping, Dunegan and Muhhuku got a better understanding of those dealing with economic crisis and housing instability on a daily basis. Working at the local food pantry evoked the same emotions in the two students.

“I kept thinking about how amazing it was that so many families were going to be helped by all of the food being sorted out,” said Dunegan, a resident of Plum Borough, Pa. “It is most important to identify them as being human beings before labeling them.”

Muhhuku, an international student from Uganda, is a big advocate of community service. Poverty is rampant in her country, but she didn’t grasp the extent of poverty in the United States until visiting Washington and New Kensington. For her, it was an eye-opening experience that repudiated stereotypes about poverty.

“Hunger and homelessness is something I've seen in its raw form, being from a country that is considered third world,” said Muhhuku who grew up in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. “It is something I didn't think a country like the U.S. suffers from. Knowing that you are making a big difference by doing something small is always a good thing.”

The summer project was the first for the newly established “Community Roar Corps,” a group of Lion Ambassadors who focus on community service projects. With the help of a grant from the Penn State Alumni Association, the corps designed team t-shirts that are worn by members during volunteer functions. In addition to working at the pantry, the Lion Ambassadors collected donated canned goods and other food items from faculty and staff and delivered them to the pantry.

“I've never been exposed to people experiencing poverty, so I was able to understand their situations better by working at the food banks,” Dunegan said.

Plans are under way to work with the food pantry on a regular basis. Volunteers from the campus will assist with next month’s distribution day, Wednesday, July 2. Synan will be recruiting all campus students to volunteer at the food bank throughout the coming school year. Alumni and friends of Penn State are encouraged to join the effort.

“It's truly a life changing experience and a great day to spend time with great people from the community,” Synan said. “It’s held the first Wednesday of each month, and I would love to get as many volunteers come from our campus as I can.”

To volunteer for the food bank distribution days, contact Synan at

For more about Lion Ambassadors, visit For more about the Westmoreland Food bank, visit

(Eric Bennardo, a senior communications major and intern in the Alumni and Public Relations office, conducted the interviews and contributed to the story.)

Media Contacts: 

Bill Woodard

Work Phone: 
Home Phone: 
Cell Phone: 

Alumni and Public Relations Specialist

Last Updated June 26, 2014