Alumni

CFJ has served more than 5,000 youth and young adults through our intensive retreat-style WorX immersion experiences to impoverished areas, representing more than 300,000 combined hours of direct service and social justice education.

Our alumni have gone on to become impressive servant leaders in many diverse fields ranging from international aid to corporate America to ordained ministry.  Below is just a taste of their many accomplishments and diverse interests!

Are you or do you know of a WorX alumnus to profile on our page?  We would love to hear from you!  Contact us today or reach out via social media.

Marisa Lightenberg

Marisa Lightenberg, a nursing student at the University of Rhode Island, has been involved with the Center for FaithJustice (CFJ) since 2013. For three years, Marisa attended JusticeworX West Virginia, with other students from Paramus Catholic, where she realized her deep desire to do mission work was truly a calling from God. Marisa discovered her vocation to better the lives of her brothers and sisters in Christ through health care and advocacy on JusticeworX. After witnessing and learning about the effects of mountaintop removal mining on people’s health and the environment, Marisa started researching it and educating people about social justice, a concept that CFJ introduced to her.

In 2016, Marisa did LeaderworX because she wanted to inspire students the way that the LeaderworX on her JusticeworX weeks inspired her. During LeaderworX, Marisa explored her religious beliefs more deeply and fully submerged herself in social justice issues. “It was a summer I will hold in my heart forever. It was so uplifting to be around a bunch of people my age who shared in my need to better the world.As a LeaderworX member, Marisa encountered rural poverty in West Virginia and urban poverty in New Jersey, and formed lifelong friendships, not only with the CFJ family, but also with those she served. The awareness and education she gained throughout her four years with CFJ taught her solidarity, community, family, and unity.

Marisa plans to incorporate the values she learned from her worX experiences into her professional life. She will continue to advocate for the oppressed and stand up for the human dignity of her human family and hopes to complete service trips every year, whether it is for a few weeks, a summer, or a year. Marisa’s specific interest in healthcare has driven her to become a nurse and she plans to continue her education after college to become an Advanced Practice Nurse. After completing graduate school, Marisa plans to open a clinic in a health professional shortage area, such as Appalachia, by partnering with a university in New Jersey to travel with a group of students every two weeks to deliver the healthcare and health education needed.

“CFJ will always be a home for me. That’s probably why I can’t stay away, God always calls you home. Home is where the heart is, and my heart will always be with those I have served and will serve. No amount of gratitude will ever be enough for CFJ and all they have done for me. I would have never realized my vocation had it not been for their programs. My worX experiences were the most transformative weeks of my life.”

You can find Marisa in the Appalachian mountains, in a city helping those God calls her to and maybe, just maybe, at the CASA.

Dr. Annie Soler

As a high school junior, Annie participated in a WorX program in the Appalachian area of eastern Kentucky and went on to serve as part of the Center’s earliest LeaderworX cohorts.  Of her service experiences with CFJ, Annie says:

“During our week, we worked building houses for the poor. After working through the day on the housing site, we would walk to the little neighborhood store and chat with the owner. By the end of one night, our entire team was sitting on his porch, discussing the problems of the world. During those few hours we spent on the porch I discovered that I am not alone in the world. Even though I can do many things on my own, I am going to need some help along the way. The people that I was helping were helping me as well. Our program facilitators led me to understand that even though I can do many things on my own, I need others, as they need me.”

Annie currently serves as Campus Minister of CFJ partner Stuart Country Day School in Princeton, of which she is also an alumna.  She received a Doctorate in International and Multicultural Education with a Human Rights Emphasis at the University of San Francisco. She holds a B.S. in Psychology and M.S. in Experimental Psychology from Saint Joseph’s University. In 2007-2008, she served as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, where she worked as the Outreach Coordinator, Volunteer Coordinator and Summer Program Coordinator at the Mustard Seed School in Sacramento, California.

Maggie Smith

Maggie Smith had her first experience with the Center for FaithJustice’s programs in 2011 when she attended JusticeworX Philadelphia. In 2014, Maggie returned to the Center for FaithJustice (CFJ) as a member of LeaderworX where she learned about social justice and its intersection with her faith. As a LeaderworX member, Maggie met and worked with many wonderful people and students who she now sees doing amazing things with their lives since JusticeworX and LeaderworX. She credits her LeaderworX experience as the inspiration for the initial call she felt toward ministry work. The following summer, Maggie returned to CFJ, this time joining the staff as a WorX Administrator for the summer programs, during which time she had the opportunity to volunteer on JusticeworX Dunlow, West Virginia. Maggie is now finishing her master’s degree in Theology with a certificate in Pastoral Ministry at Villanova University. She currently works as a Campus Ministry Intern and advises service and justice experiences for undergraduate students. Maggie’s many roles at CFJ opened her eyes and heart to the call to work for justice and peace in her local communities and beyond. She says:

“Jesus calls us to see our neighbors, to connect with them, and to show them love through our actions. My experiences with LeaderworX and JusticeworX in Philly, Trenton, and West Virginia gave me the opportunity to learn about and practice these things. I learned how to listen, to reach out, and to recognize the dignity of all of our sisters and brothers, especially the poor and marginalized.”

CFJ’s programs taught her not only how to work for change on a large scale, but also the small things she can do each day to show love, fight for justice, and spread the gospel message. Maggie would love to work with college or high school students, either by providing educational service and justice immersion experiences, teaching theology, or working in campus ministry.  “There is no doubt in my mind that my experiences with CFJ have contributed to my career hopes for the future.”

Alex Varga

As a high school student, Alex participated in a variety of CFJ programs and ultimately went on to join us for a summer of LeaderworX.  She has since gone on to serve as a Team Leader of a number of our Appalachia programs and currently holds a position on our Board of Trustees.  Years after those experiences, she looked back on the effect that those experiences had on her.

“These programs made it so easy to connect — to my peers, to the people we were trying to help, and to my faith.   Throughout the programs and the months after what I remember most is this incredible feeling — a mix of happiness, hope, purpose, empowerment, among many other emotions.  I remember that during those experiences, I really felt like myself, and it was the closest I ever felt to being the person that I want to be, and that my faith teaches me to be.”

In 2009, Alex earned a Masters of Science from Columbia University and is currently employed at the Center for Environmental Sustainability.

Ashley Wilson

 

One of our original JusticeworX participants, Ashley currently serves as the Communications Coordinator for NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice, which educates, organizes, and lobbies for social and economic transformation in Washington, D.C. There, she leads media efforts and messaging, manages the email program, and coordinates “take action” tools for the NETWORK community to easily advocate to their elected officials. She has traveled on and organized four of NETWORK’s five Nuns on the Bus trips. Before NETWORK, Ashley was a student at St. Joseph’s University (SJU,) a Jesuit school in Philadelphia where she worked with the Faith Justice Institute to coordinate service-learning opportunities for students and served as President of SJU Students for Workers’ Rights. During this time, she also interned at LIFT-Philadelphia and volunteered with the Philadelphia Committee to End Homelessness. Ashley graduated from SJU with a degree in Political Science and minors in Sociology and Faith Justice Studies.

Ashley participated in multiple years of JusticeworX (’05, ’06, ’07, and ’08) and has subsequently served as a volunteer and content writer.  Of her experience with us, she says:

“Participating in JusticeworX was a crucial point in my vocational formation to live out a faith that does justice. Without the CFJ/JusticeworX, I would have never learned about Saint Joe’s or NETWORK Lobby. JusticeworX was where I learned to question  my privilege, practice a lobby visit for the first time, learn the true meaning of solidarity, and understand the difference between charity and justice. At the same time, it was fun!

Now in my professional life, I treasure the connections that I made many years ago and know that when I encounter another WorX alum (which is often!), we share a core faith belief and foundational understanding that ‘faith without works is dead.’ I am so grateful for CFJ and JusticeworX for being such a formative part of my young faith and social justice life; it is because of this program that I see faith and justice as inextricably linked.”

In 2013, Ashley also played a critical role in helping CFJ to bring the “Nuns on the Bus” to our home in Central New Jersey, which endures as a significant highlight in our organizational history.

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