DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Campus and Community > A Glowing Example of Neighborly Goodwill at the Ray
By Melania Toczko /
January 19, 2022 /
Posted in: CAMPUS AND COMMUNITY /
St. Vincent de Paul once said, "I have to love my neighbor as the image of God and the object of his love."
Just a few blocks away from DePaul University's Lincoln Park campus is Lincoln Park High School, and this proximity has inspired a neighborly relationship. For example, when a staff member at LPHS saw a need to cultivate student skills, Danielle Arens felt a duty to answer the call.
Lincoln Park High has a specialized program for students with special needs, teenagers who will soon move into the working world. As part of their transition, the students need job training.
That's where Arens came in. She is the senior assistant director of programming and risk management at the Ray Meyer Fitness and Recreation Center, and she saw that DePaul could create an internship that provided crucial work experience.
"Students learn responsibilities like folding towels, cleaning machines, performing headcounts and swiping identification cards while greeting guests at the entrance," she says. "Many of the tasks they complete are held to the same as expectations placed on DePaul students working at the Ray. We start with basic skills and add challenges as students progress through the program."
Arens, too, learned early job skills as a student worker at Ithaca College's recreation center. She loved working with students, faculty and staff as a personal trainer and group fitness instructor.
"As I progressed through the exercise science program, I was able to take on more responsibility at the recreation center," Arens says. "Mentoring, training and motivating my peers to become personal trainers themselves motivated me to foster a campus community centered about fitness elsewhere."
Her passion for sharing a love of health and wellness carried into graduate studies in higher education administration. In her current role, Arens is presented with many opportunities to teach students about physical education.
The internship for LPHS students at the Ray is now two years old. Those who complete the program can use their skills at other recreation centers, gyms and pools, as well as similar venues in the hospitality industry.
DePaul student workers provide LPHS students with demonstrations of their tasks, check in with them for feedback and engage with them as coworkers and fellow members of the center's team.
DePaul psychology student and fitness floor supervisor Emma Aculado frequently interacts with students and supervisors of the internship program. She views her relationships with the participants as a positive learning experience for herself, too.
"One student in particular, Eddie, always says hello to me whenever we pass each other on the 2nd floor and gives me a fist bump before he leaves, and it always brightens my day," Aculado says. "I really admire that the Ray offers this opportunity for these students to learn these skills, and it follows DePaul's Vincentian values of supporting our local community."
"The Vincentian question of 'what must be done' allowed us to work with Lincoln Park High School to create an opportunity that contributes to the collective good of our community," Arens says. "Through this partnership, we fostered an inclusive environment that enables participants to further themselves toward their future careers. It has been super-rewarding to see their progress."
Centuries after Vincent de Paul preached the importance of giving back to communities in the villages surrounding his native Paris, DePaul students at the Ray are continuing his legacy by giving back to their neighbors in the Lincoln Park community.
Melania Toczko is a senior at DePaul, majoring in communication and media. She works in the Division of Mission and Ministry.