"(My parents) didn't have any family here in America. I didn't speak any English and I was separated from the other kids because I was in ESL (English as a second language) classes. I felt lonely so I turned to God."
Now, as office manager/budget coordinator at the Newman Center in University Heights, she helps college students navigate the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood. Serving the surrounding campuses of Rutgers University, New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and Essex County Community College (ECCC), the Newman Center hosts social and spiritual events to enrich the Catholic faith of young adults.
The center offers masses, Bible study, eucharistic adoration, men and women's groups and retreats to unite the Catholic community on campus. Service to the poor is also stressed with programs such as Second Mile, where volunteers walk the streets of Newark donating food and clothing to the homeless (see The Catholic Advocate, Nov. 7, 2007).
While attending Rutgers University, Capella was drawn to the Newman Center one day after attending a Mass. "I transferred to Rutgers in the middle of the year and I tried to make friends," she recalled. "I remembered needing Church and I saw a flyer for the Newman Center. I immediately felt at home. The center helped me grow in faith."
During her sophomore year, she attended a vocational retreat hosted by the center and was surprised by the number of young people who felt passionately about their faith. "Seeing people my age so in love with God and happy made me believe there was something here for me. I saw all the paths you could take but one mission. I saw that being Catholic is great. My roots have been planted and replanted so many times and though Him, I came to know and connect with more people."
After graduating in 2006, Capella began to work at the Newman Center full-time. Today she has come full circle-reaching out to help students as the center once reached out to her.
"There is a couch in my office if anyone wants to talk. We welcome anyone. It's easy to relate to the students because I am like their older sister in a way. As I grow older, that might change."
Volunteering and faith have always been central in her life. Growing up in Puerto Rico, she attended weekly Mass with parents and both pairs of grandparents. All three generations of the family were close and very faithful. However, while working to build a new life in America, her parents no longer attended Mass. Now, still living in their home country, she encourages her parents to return to their faith.
"After we came to America, my parents were trying to support me and my siblings and they stopped going to Mass," she said. "I hope by my example they can go back to the Church."
Making time for God is a concern not only for Capella's parents, but the young adults she serves at the Newman Center. "Most students don't dedicate time for God and get caught up in worldly things such as drinking and their new friends. It is important to reach students when they first come to college. The younger they are, the more open they are to faith," she explained.
She noted that there are more young people coming to the center with 30 regular "core" students and many others attending social and volunteering events. Inspired by the students, Capella has grown to be more passionate in her faith. "I learn from the students much more than they learn from me. They are a constant reminder of what I need to strive for. There is a fire within the students. They look forward to the future and stay positive."