Jim Rowen added “octane” to the Great Ignatian Challenge elevating school spirit at nine Jesuit schools in four states as students collect food for the hungry in their communities during the Thanksgiving season.
Rowen, a graduate of Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx and parishioner of St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre, has donated $250,000 to fund the challenge that runs through Nov. 25, with Jesuit schools representing the archdiocese, Buffalo, Rochester, Philadelphia, New Jersey and Connecticut. The archdiocese is represented by Fordham Prep, and Loyola School, Regis High School and Xavier High School, all in Manhattan.
“I want to do something that isn’t distracting and cost increasing to the schools,” said Rowen, the chief operating officer of Renaissance Technologies LLC, as he told CNY about the challenge he began in 2016. “(A food drive) is something many of them did. All I did was add a little octane to a planned food drive in the form of competition and school spirit, and it worked out real well.
“It will bond the Jesuit schools more tightly than they already are. I think it will leave a lasting impression on the students, lessons learned when you work together you can get so much more done, take some of that school adrenalin to help communities that could not be done with a single school.”
The schools have collected nearly 220,000 pounds of food over the past four years and will gather food via online purchases this year due to Covid-19.
Each school will receive at least $15,000 in prize money. The top three finishers will bank additional money based on pounds of food collected per student, and schools will earn extra prize money by gaining the most outside media attention, collecting the most pounds of food by online donations and using the most creative methods for accumulating food.
This year’s prize money will help the schools to offset additional operating expenses resulting from Covid-19.
“It brings our spirits up especially right now (with the pandemic),” said Julia Manuali, a 17-year-old senior at Loyola. “It encourages students to think about issues more and influences how people think about service, not just as a requirement but going above and beyond with it.
“You’re learning about food insecurity while having a friendly competition and it brings everyone together. It’s harder to rally people (during the pandemic), but you still feel the competitiveness and the willingness to donate. People are interested in the challenge.”
Tony Oroszlany is in his 10th year as president of Loyola School, a coed school with 225 students, and said Loyola’s collected bounty will go to City Harvest.
“It starts with the mission and the desire to help others,” Oroszlany said. “There is the fun competitive spirit among everybody, for sure, but this challenge aligns with everything these schools believe in and it’s the Thanksgiving season. We can help to feed others with a really great mission.”
Father Christopher Devron, S.J., is in his eighth year as president of Fordham Prep, an all-boys school with 948 students, and said Part of the Solution (POTS), Concourse House and Mercy Center, all in the Bronx, will receive the food collected at Fordham Prep.
“Part of what we teach our students is the value of becoming men for others who dedicate their lives to God’s greater glory and the help of their neighbor,” Father Devron said. “There is nothing more important than meeting the needs of the hungry.
“It instills in students a commitment to community, to give back to others who are fortunate. They’re making the world a better place, and it also gives us an opportunity to educate our students about food insecurity as a broad issue. Sometimes we forget that in this country, this is a major issue.”
Rowen hopes the challenge will soon include all Jesuit schools across the country.
“Within the next three years, my goal would be to have a nationwide Jesuit men and women in the service of others Ignatian Challenge,” Rowen said. “I certainly think it’s attainable, and I would be sorrowful if other schools didn’t take the opportunity to participate.”