Fulbright grant helps next step in service career

Marc Vallone in the summer vacation hallway at Camden Catholic. He was one of 100 Fulbright scholars selected to teach in Brazil.
Marc Vallone in the summer vacation hallway at Camden Catholic. He was one of 100 Fulbright scholars selected to teach in Brazil. (TOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 20, 2014

For a Collingswood kid, Marc Vallone did a lot of his growing up in Camden and Haddonfield.

His father, Domenic, founded the city's Cathedral Kitchen to feed the homeless and the hungry. His mother, Mary Christine, known as "Chris," is a physical therapist for developmentally disabled students at the borough's Bancroft School.

"I was exposed at an early age to things most suburban middle-class kids don't see," said Vallone, 26, a 2015 Fulbright scholarship winner.

"I remember talking about the Eagles with a homeless guy at Cathedral Kitchen. I remember playing with kids at Bancroft who had tremendous difficulties in their lives, who were drastically different from me. I learned the value of treating everyone with dignity and respect."

Vallone, director of international admissions at Camden Catholic High School (his alma mater), plans to follow his parents into the human-services sector.

He has an undergraduate degree in marketing from the University of Scranton and an MBA from La Salle, and hopes to help nonprofits better manage, and leverage, their money.

"Most people get an MBA to get a raise," Vallone said. "I got mine because you need a clear business sense to run a nonprofit."

"He has a passion for organizations that serve the underserved," said Karen Reardon, an assistant professor of business law at La Salle. "He's a student you would not expect to find in an MBA program. He wants to bring to the nonprofit, do-good world some core business skills."

Under the Fulbright English Teaching Assistant grant, Vallone will spend a year teaching English to Brazilian university students. He was one of 100 winners among the 400 who applied for teaching slots in Brazil.

"I'm very anxious . . . but I know I can do it," Vallone said. "I know I can fly into a country and learn the language."

He also knows something about persistence: After an unsuccessful 2010 Fulbright application, he decided to spend a year teaching English at the Jesuit-run Working Boys Center in Quito, Ecuador.

"He has grit," noted Reardon, who supervised Vallone's independent study project (on volunteerism) while Vallone was at La Salle.

Vallone, who returns to Ecuador annually, described his students in Quito as "street kids, sometimes as young as 3 or 4, shining shoes, selling candies on the bus."

"It changed my life, working with those kids and their families," he added. "They're rich in so many ways, despite how little they have. They have spirit, strong faith, an ability to hope in the face of despair."

Although Vallone will be leaving Camden Catholic, Brazil "is an exciting opportunity for Marc," said Camden Catholic president Mary Whipkey. She encouraged him to apply for the Fulbright, as did family members, including his older brother Domenic, an analyst for Northrup Grumann, and younger sister Michelle, a mathematics teacher at Camden Catholic.

"I always wanted our three kids to learn about people of different ethnicities, faiths, and abilities," Chris Vallone, 54, said. She did post-disaster service work in New Orleans and Haiti, so she can understand her son's passion to help.

"As a parent, you offer your children a place to grow and find themselves," said her husband, Domenic, who is 60 and the director of operations for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

"It's important for a person to follow their bliss, to make a contribution and be happy," he added.

Vallone is studying Portuguese as he prepares for Brazil. He recently returned from a reunion with other Quito volunteers, which reminded him of why he wants to devote his life to service.

"The most difficult part is convincing yourself to jump," he said. "I have already made the jump."


kriordan@phillynews.com

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