Worcester State University celebrates National Philanthropy Day with a unique twist

November 21, 2023
By: Paul Davey

Worcester State University joined in the celebration of National Philanthropy Day on Wednesday, Nov. 15, with a unique version of the holiday: Phil Day, named in honor of the late Phil Wasylean ’63, a Worcester State alumnus and benefactor who Wasylean Hall was named in honor of. Students took part in campus-wide activities such as a Thank-a-Thon and scavenger hunt, and the day concluded with the unveiling of the new name of the university’s wellness center.

Throughout the day, students stopped by tables in Sheehan Hall, the Sullivan T, and the Student Center to write thank you notes to university donors. Messages included, “Thanks for your support of students like me!” and “We appreciate your generous support to our education!” Some students filled out more than one postcard, and at the end of the day, there were more than 2,000 postcards ready to be mailed out to donors.

Students were vocal about their appreciation of philanthropic efforts that support Worcester State through scholarships, improvements to facilities, and more. Volunteers Lizbeth Alcantara, a senior studying occupational therapy, and Jessica Rancourt, a senior studying psychology, have both received scholarships. “I try my best to attend the annual brunch to thank my donors in person, but if I can’t, this is also a good way to write down a thank you note and know that they’ll receive it,” Alcantara said.

“Getting a scholarship is actually what led me to choose this school,” Rancourt said. “So, I make sure to take advantage of that every day, by really engaging in my classes and doing work to prove I deserve that, because it’s really amazing that I was able to get that scholarship.”

In addition to thanking donors, students who stopped at the Phil Day table in the Sullivan T wrote letters of appreciation to their professors. Emily Soltano, professor of psychology and director of the university’s Center for Teaching and Learning, said that the thank you notes are greatly appreciated by faculty. “They love the notes,” said Soltano, who noted that professors will often display students’ notes of gratitude in their classrooms. “Students are really great about writing everything from just a simple thank you to really specific thank you notes.”

Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Thea’s Pantry accepted drive-thru donations outside of the Student Center. The program was named after Thea Aschkenase ’07, a Holocaust survivor and Worcester State alumna, for her lifelong dedication to advocacy against hunger. The food pantry offers confidential help to Worcester State students, faculty, and staff who are in need of food and other necessities, providing up to 35 pounds of food per week to anybody with a university OneCard. In 2022, Thea’s Pantry received $8,000 in donations and more than 200 pounds of food.

The day was capped off with a ceremony to unveil the new name of the university’s wellness center: the Gene J. and Julianne DeFeudis Wellness Center. The center is the campus hub for health and fitness, special events, and athletic training and competition. The Defeudises have long-standing philanthropic ties to Worcester State and have supported 17 initiatives at the school since 2001. They were the largest contributors to the fund to build the wellness center, the Emergency Student Fund, and the annual golf tournament as well as providing scholarships to students.

The ceremony started with a performance by the Worcester State Dance Team, followed by remarks from Vice President of University Advancement Tom McNamara and Director of Athletics Mike Mudd. They spoke about the generosity of the Defeudises and what their support has meant to Worcester State students.

“We’re so grateful to the DeFeudises’ continuing generosity over the last 20-plus years,” said Provost and Acting President Lois Wims—a regular patron of the center’s facilities. “This is a wonderful testament to their willingness to give back to our institution and to support our students in a holistic way—not just in academics but in all the ways that they can work on their mental and physical well-being.”

Rebecca Cross contributed to this story. Photos by Matt Wright ’10 and Nancy Sheehan. 

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