Griffin Kapelus: Volunteer for a Life With Deeper Meaning

People often bemoan that young people these days are self-absorbed and wallowing in indifference. However, many young adults are actually devoted to the future of society and doing what they can to help the less fortunate. One of these people is Griffin Kapelus.

A Firm Foundation

Griffin Kapelus is a college student at the University of Vermont. He was born and raised in Manhattan on the Upper West Side. Griffin was the youngest of three children and lived with his parents, older sisters, and family dog for most of his life.

Although Griffin was born into a comfortable lifestyle, his parents always taught him to appreciate all that they had in life and not to take anything for granted. This focus on helping others influenced Griffin from a young age and he was inspired by his mother’s work at the Goddard Riverside Community Center.

The Goddard Riverside Community Center had a program that provided free tutoring to children from impoverished families. Griffin would often visit his mother’s office after school and the first-hand experience of non-profit community work was etched in his mind.

More Than Just Academics

During high school, Griffin Kapelus found his academic interest in global studies and politics under the guidance of some excellent educators such as his history teacher.

After high school, before moving on to college, Griffin worked as a busboy and waiter. As a young adult, he continued to pursue his interest in learning about politics and international relations by reading the New York Times.

A few years later, Griffin was admitted to part-time college at Hunter College. He found a job as a dog walker which allowed him to earn some extra money and fit in his college classes. As his interest in urban issues and inequality began to develop, he wrote a major paper on gentrification and displacement in Harlem.

College also gave Griffin a new perspective on religion as he researched it through the lens of various academic disciplines such as anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, and theologians. He began to see how academics and the real world intersected and was eager to explore social issues.

Although Griffin was officially enrolled in the University of Vermont in the fall of 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic kept him learning remotely at his home in New York. While he remained committed to his academic exploration of social issues, he felt the burning need to contribute to improving these issues in a personal capacity.

Doing His Part

Griffin’s journey in volunteerism started after he left high school. He attributes his interest in socially important work to the experiences his mother shared with him during his years as a child and teenager.

When the pandemic happened, Griffin signed up as a volunteer at a food pantry in New York City called West Side Campaign Against Hunger. From moving boxes and packing bags, his role began to grow over time, and he soon found himself spending much of his time interacting with the people who would visit the food pantry.

Griffin was affected by the personal stories of some of these people, who had been food insecure for many years or struggling financially due to the pandemic. He felt that volunteering was an incredibly impactful experience and he pledged to continue to be part of the solution.

When he finally moved to Burlington, Vermont for in-person studies, Griffin began to volunteer at a program called Feeding Chittenden that addressed food insecurity throughout Chittenden county (in which Burlington is a city).

Feeding Chittenden was founded in 1974 as a simple pantry program that provided a small number of groceries to families in need once a month. Following an increasing need for hunger relief services, the program has expanded multiple times and now serves over 12,000 people each year.

Aside from his time volunteering with Feeding Chittenden, Griffin also took a job at a homeless shelter in town. As this was his first experience as a paid employee in a social work organization, Griffin learned a lot from the role and gained a deeper appreciation of the interconnected issues associated with complex social problems.

In an interview with, Griffin was asked about how his work impacted his world view. His answer was, “Cleaning rooms, doing laundry, and washing dishes is not always satisfying, but recognizing that performing these tasks allows the shelter to properly function provides otherwise benign tasks with a deeper meaning.”

Many of our country’s young people are deeply involved and invested in building a better tomorrow. Individuals such as Griffin Kapelus give us hope that altruism and social responsibility are on the rise and that a new generation will follow a purpose driven life and try to do their part in making the world a better place.