Breaking the Cycle

Submitted by Kelly O

Her days are long. Her challenges are many. But Kelly O'Leary '03 CLAS loves her job. She is principal at St. Martin de Porres Academy in New Haven, NJ.

The students are from struggling inner-city neighborhoods. And the institution's survival depends entirely on donations. But that doesn't faze her.

She says her staff gives 110 percent-and it has changed her definition of work. "Everyone wants to be here. They care about working hard for the students and breaking the cycle of poverty through education."

Her career path began when she gave up a spot on the Villanova lacrosse team to participate in service break experiences. They changed the course of her life. After four trips, including one to Mexico where she observed great poverty, she was certain. "I wanted a career that would give me the natural high of helping others."

O'Leary's passion is inner-city education. While earning her master's degree at Sacred Heart University, she volunteered at St. Martin de Porres, a NativityMiguel middle school. Just opened, it provided children in impoverished neighborhoods with a high-quality, tuition-free education. She stayed on as a teacher, and in 2009 was promoted to principal. "It's exciting to be part of a fledgling school that has the potential to be an incredible institution," she says.

"What sets Kelly apart is her humility," says Villanova's director of Service Learning, Noreen Campbell. "She puts all her energy into helping others."