Mavericks Making a Difference: Gianella Brignoni ’21, Captain and Deputy Cadet Commander of U.S. Air Force Civilian Auxiliary, Feeds Families in Need

Mavericks making a difference

Gianella Brignoni '21, a junior who is majoring in legal studies: political science and minoring in English, is staying busy during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by volunteering with the Civil Air Patrol. The Civil Air Patrol is a nonprofit volunteer organization that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force and conducts search and rescue missions, disaster relief, aerospace education and cadet programs for teenagers.

Along with her fellow members of the Jersey City-based squadron of the NJ Wing Civil Air Patrol, Brignoni volunteers at the Community Food Bank of New Jersey to assemble boxes of food. Boxes contain non-perishable food, including canned vegetables, canned chili, maple syrup, jelly, rice, oats and peanut butter. Each box sustains a family of four for three to four days and an individual for up to two weeks. On the first day, the volunteers assembled 730 boxes. On subsequent days as they became more familiar with the task, they assembled up to 1110 boxes. “It’s really cool that I get to go out and help,” Brignoni said. “And the food bank loves us. Even just on the first day, they told us that we assembled more boxes than the average volunteer.”

Brignoni has been involved with the Civil Air Patrol since age 14 and is now a captain and deputy cadet commander within her squadron. “The part I really love is the mentorship of younger cadets,” she explained. Every Friday, she travels from Dobbs Ferry to Jersey City to mentor a group of Civil Air Patrol cadets. After reflecting on her own experience as a cadet, she devotes extra time to discussions with her mentees. “I like to sit down with them and talk about what they need for their promotions,” she said. “Advancing in the program is important for their own leadership skills and looks very good on their résumés. I've also exposed them to different programs and opportunities in Jersey City. I try to make meetings both personal and professional for my girls,” as she fondly refers to them.

She is also part of the ROTC program at Manhattan College and spends every Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on that campus taking classes on topics such as aerospace power, leadership and communication theories, and national defense policy. “I’m trying to get into the Air Force,” she explained. “It’s a lot of work and time, but it's worth it. I really think that through the Air Force, I can help people.”

Serving others is the through-line in everything Brignoni does: “All of my projects, they're not for me — they're for other people. I have other people relying on me, even literally relying on me for food when I’m working at the food bank. It’s also helping me to keep myself going. This pandemic will go away, so it’s about how you make your time useful and prepare for the future.”

Brignoni’s community service efforts thrive at Mercy College as well. At Mercy, she is the president of the Rotaract Club, part of a global service organization for young adults that is sponsored by Rotary International. Currently, the club is organizing a drive to send thank you cards to essential workers at Morristown Hospital and other hospitals in New York. They are also creating a video to thank essential workers, which the local Rotary chapter has agreed to publicize on social media.

The strong community at Mercy inspires her to continue helping people and encourage others to do the same: “I’ve met so many fantastic people during my years here at Mercy, and I really do miss the community, just seeing each other every day. I think we all miss it. I’m more and more grateful each day for the countless opportunities Mercy gives us. We’re a very strong college. We should take advantage of that and make our community even stronger. It’s a ripple effect.” Her recommendation for how to do that? Find a way to help others.

Mercy is a strong community and by working together we will make our community even stronger. If you are a Maverick making a difference, or you know of one, let us know at

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