For Kathryn Monfalcone '20, an itch to serve her community has been instinctual. Her first discovery of service’s impact dates back to sixth grade, when she was selected by her instructors to be a tutor in a coveted peer teaching program. Elated by the process of sharing in a fellow student’s success, she committed to continue employing her skills to help others.
“It was a really pivotal moment,” she said. “That was the first big thing where I was like, ‘OK, I want to do more like this.’ Not necessarily tutoring, but lending my time and my skills to make a difference.”
Since her tutoring debut, Monfalcone’s relentless pursuit of service has endured, and that commitment has earned her the 2020 James Monroe Prize in Civic Leadership. Since 2005, William & Mary has awarded this annual prize to “a student who has demonstrated sustained leadership of an unusual quality, leadership combined with initiative, character and an unfailing commitment to leveraging the assets of the William & Mary community to address the needs of our society.”
“The committee selected Kathryn because of her leadership skills that inspired her service oriented peers and because her application demonstrated that she was an innovative force in developing service programs in our community,” said Rich Thompson, associate director of the Office of Community Engagement. “It was also apparent that the programs that she developed were innovative and that they instilled positive change in society that will influence future generations.”
The award will be presented during a public ceremony at 4 p.m. Jan. 29 in Miller Hall's Brinkley Commons. The event, included in the university's Charter Day festivities, will also celebrate recipients of the annual Thomas Jefferson Awards and the announcement of the Plumeri Awards.
Fueling her passion
In high school, Monfalcone volunteered as a swim team coach, classroom helper, one-on-one tutor, food drive coordinator and Key Club member. Upon her arrival to William & Mary, she sought to surround herself with the same enthusiasm for community engagement. At William & Mary’s Circle K International (CKI) chapter, a student-run volunteer organization designed to identify community needs and develop student leaders, she found it.
“Being in CKI, I’ve met so many different William & Mary students from so many different backgrounds who just want to give their time for something bigger than themselves. It’s this environment I’ve surrounded myself with, but also created for myself. It fuels this passion more and more every day,” she said.
In CKI, Monfalcone has not only been touched by, but contributed to this infectious energy of service. During her four years of membership, she transitioned from being a member to a project leader to vice president to president. She has raised funds for international organizations, engaged in charity walks, prepared food for the homeless, supported adults with developmental disabilities and championed projects to engage elementary and middle school students in service projects of their own.
Identifying community gaps
During her first semester as a CKI volunteer, Monfalcone began working with K Kids, a child community service organization sponsored by Kiwanis International that aims to teach upper elementary students about the importance of helping others. According to Monfalcone, volunteering with third through fifth graders at Matthew Whaley Elementary School exposed her to the challenge of identifying community needs and the unique ability of children to do so.
“That’s what we’re trying to do as student servants, student leaders, student volunteers — we’re trying to fulfill the needs that exist. We’re not trying to create new needs or overdo something that has already been tended to,” she said of determining community gaps. “But it’s not always an easy task. Sometimes it’s easy to come up with ways you can be helping, but those ways might not really help.”
With K Kids, a largely student-run organization, Monfalcone witnessed as children devised innovative ways to give back.
“I think children are a population group that is sometimes minimized because they’re young. But what I’ve seen with K Kids is that no child is too young to contribute. I’ve seen kids with really big hearts and really big plans. I think their opinions matter,” she said.
As project leader for the K Kids program, Monfalcone worked to ensure students’ community engagement proposals became a reality. Doing so, she explained, gave students more than a platform to serve: “It gives these kids a sense of purpose,” she said.
During her junior year, Monfalcone was driven to expand this sense of purpose to more children. After witnessing the influence of K Kids on the lives of elementary schoolers, she discovered there was no club of its kind for middle school students.
“I was so excited about these graduating fifth graders,” she said, “but I realized there wasn’t a place for them to go — a structured place to volunteer and work with other kids about how to make a difference.”
Without hesitation, Monfalcone worked to fill that community gap, just as she had brought reality to the service ideas of the children at Matthew Whaley Elementary School. Consulting CKI advisors, petitioning for funding, identifying a target middle school and appealing to administration, she began what would become a year-long process of chartering the first Builder’s Club in Williamsburg at Berkeley Middle School.
This past December, Monfalcone witnessed her project come to fruition.
“They had their first ever induction ceremony. They got this little pin and a certificate. It was so exciting to see these kids be passionate about helping others — feeding off each other. That was really beautiful,” she said.
When Monfalcone arrived at William & Mary, she was uncertain of what her postgraduate path would hold. Her experiences engaging with children as founder of the Builder’s Club and project leader for K Kids have since provided clarity.
“It’s been a really cool experience for me working with kids and helping children strengthen themselves,” she said. “I don’t want to hoard who I am or what I’ve learned. I want to share it. It’s shown me I 100% want to go into education.”
As she approaches the last semester of her senior year and approaches that post-graduate reality, Monfalcone expressed that she will carry the spirit of service with her.
“I think we all have abilities that we can give to help others. That’s given me a lot of focus in my own life, and I feel like it will continue to do so once I graduate from William & Mary this year,” she said.“There’s a lot of hope, knowing there’s good to be done. We can all put good in the world. I think that’s really special.”