By Abby Wojcik
Assistant Features Editor
Those that know Canius’ senior associate Campus Minister Joe Van Volkenburg know what an amazing, hard-working person he is. He is an ‘88 Canisius graduate and has been a Campus Minister here for 23 years. Now, the Pegula family, owners of the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, are recognizing this with Kim Pegula’s monthly One Buffalo Community Award.
This award, presented by the New Era Cap Company, was created to highlight the work of an exceptional member of the Buffalo community that goes above and beyond in their community service initiatives. The winner will also get to choose a non-profit organization to receive a donation from the Pegulas, Pegula Sports and Entertainment, the Buffalo Bills, and the Buffalo Sabres.
Van Volkenburg was nominated by Dr. Karl Kozlowski, Professor of Kinesiology at Canisius. When Dr. Kozlowski got an email asking if he knew anyone worthy of nomination, he thought about how this description perfectly fits Joe Van Volkenburg and what he is a part of at Canisius. Kozlowski sees “how he is with the students, and how he is at the organizations, and everybody knows him. He’s just a loving guy. He loves what he does. That, to me, triggered the nomination for Joe.”
Kozlowski has volunteered with Van Volkenburg at several of the projects Campus Ministry is known for, including sandwich ministry, the burrito project, and St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy. Kozlowski noticed “[Van Volkenburg] interact with both students [and] people that are receiving the services–getting the burritos, getting the sandwiches. He’s all about giving them whatever he has. If he has something that they need, he’s going to literally just give it to them.”
St. Luke’s is particularly important to Van Volkenburg, which is why he chose it as the non-profit organization that the Pegulas will make a donation to.
“St. Luke’s serves the poorest of the poor. They serve the most [needy], most forgotten of God’s children,” Van Volkenburg said. “St. Luke’s provides them love, provides them dignity, and provides them hope.”
The mission is highly ambitious with their two shelters and 23 homes. They serve between 400-600 meals in their dining room to anyone in need. They only take private donations and receive no money from the government or diocese. St. Luke’s was founded by two Canisius alumni, Amy Betros and Norm Paolini.
Van Volkenburg directly participates with St. Luke’s Mission to serve the less fortunate, but he is also excellent at getting students to come with him and engage with their community. This is one of the more worthwhile reasons behind his work at St. Luke’s, because, Van Volkenburg said, “When our students go there, they’re serving the poorest of the poor, [but] they’re also working alongside the poorest of the poor. Many of the people working there are [also] living in the shelter.”
The workers at St. Luke’s and those that they serve have come to know Van Volkenburg as “Mr. Canisius.” They might not know his name, but they know where he is from and they know he brings students from Canisius to help him. He is dedicated to teaching Canisius students the ideas of kinship, respect, and dignity through volunteering and teamwork.
Van Volkenburg was not aware that he was nominated by Kozlowski until he was called with the information that he was hand-chosen by Kim Pegula.
“I was surprised, I was humbled, and [I was] honored,” he commented on his reaction. He wants to keep the focus on those that he considered to be the real heroes: the students, faculty, staff, and alumni who have been so supportive and helpful. He humbly stated, “All I have to do is get the word out and ask and people come, but they know the programs are great.”
His influence on others has reached so many. Particularly, Dr. Kozlowski said, “He has shown me a way in which I can just be selfless and think about things in terms of how can I make my touch wider.”
Canisius College President John J. Hurley also knows how amazing Van Volkenburg is, and expressed it on a Facebook post announcing Van Volkenburg’s honor. “Congratulations Joe,” he wrote. “You are a dedicated, hard-working man with a heart of gold!”
Pegula Sports and Entertainment will come to the Canisius Chapel to film Van Volkenburg and St. Luke’s Outreach to the homeless on Sunday, March 19. All are encouraged to get involved with their work. Van Volkenburg will then be honored for the One Buffalo Community Award at a Sabres hockey game.
Canisius College is incredibly proud of Joe Van Volkenburg and his contributions to the school and all of Buffalo. He is especially deserving of this award.