Elon family’s scholarships gift strengthens Catholic Campus Ministry program

A generous endowment gift from Elon parents Paul and Renee Armstrong ’22 will establish a scholarship to support engagement interns who will connect first-year Catholic students with the university’s Catholic Campus Ministry program. Growing endowed scholarships is the top priority of the Elon LEADS Campaign.

When Paul and Renee Armstrong P’22 talk to other Catholic parents of first-year college students, the discussion often includes how to keep their children involved in the church and practicing their faith after arriving on campus.

“One of our concerns personally with our daughter and from what we hear from other Catholic parents is that they worry their student may disconnect from the church without mom and dad saying, ‘Let’s go to church,’” Renee Armstrong said.

To help first-year Catholic students at Elon find the services offered by the university’s Catholic Campus Ministry, the couple made a generous gift to endow the Armstrong Family Catholic Campus Ministry Engagement Internship, a peer-to-peer mentoring program that just completed its first year at CCM.

Patterned after a similar initiative at Elon Hillel, engagement interns are second-year students who serve as ambassadors for Catholic Campus Ministry. They develop strong connections with first-year students through one-on-one outreach, ongoing interaction and mentoring. The program includes leadership training, group programs and mentoring sessions for interns, where they gain the experience necessary to reach out to first-year students and help them overcome any challenges that may occur when moving into a new place with few if any familiar faces.

“Our goal is to keep students alive in their faith while at Elon, and we hope this helps bridge that gap,” Renee Armstrong said.

The family’s gift to establish the Armstrong Family Catholic Campus Ministry Engagement Intern Scholarship is part of the $250 million Elon LEADS Campaign. Growing scholarships is the top priority of the campaign, the largest in the university’s history.

Helping students find their way

The CCM engagement internship program was not in place when the Armstrongs’ daughter, Sara ’22, arrived from Kennesaw, Georgia, to begin her Elon education. They believe the program would have made a difference for their daughter and want to see it continue and grow to help future Catholic students at Elon.

“We think internships are important because they support the growth of students. We also know the beginning of a student’s college time is very challenging. The first thing they think about isn’t always their faith, even if they have strong faith,” Paul Armstrong said. “Having someone personally contact new students when they arrive on campus makes getting involved easier, rather than showing up to an event and not knowing anyone or what to expect.”

Father Peter Tremblay, director of Catholic Campus Ministry and associate chaplain for Catholic Life at Elon, said student outreach offered through engagement interns makes a major difference when it comes to attracting students to CCM and keeping them involved. Engagement interns contact incoming first-year students prior to their arrival on campus, offer greetings, invitations to coffee, Sunday meals or other CCM social gatherings and Catholic services.

As a result, first-year Catholic students at Elon aren’t like explorers venturing into an unknown land, Tremblay said. CCM’s program began in fall 2020 with a cohort of four engagement interns. As a result of their work, more students found the ministry sooner in the fall semester than in previous years, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They felt more supported and welcomed to our ministry,” Tremblay said. “It seems to be the rule that if a staff person invites a student to an event, the student will appreciate it and may even humor the staff member by showing up. But if a student invites another student and promises to go with them, that student has a higher probability of showing up. A student reaching out to engage other students is an extension of the Elon model of peer mentoring.”

Engagement interns help first-year students acclimate to a new environment, raise their confidence to tackle challenges and make friends. It is an opportunity to build meaningful relationships, tap into leadership opportunities and strengthen or renew their faith, Tremblay said.

“The idea Father Peter has of reaching out to freshmen from Catholic Campus Ministry we see as invaluable. We really liked Father Peter’s engagement strategy and we thought we would support it,” Renee Armstrong said. “We also saw when we took a tour of the campus that religious life is important at Elon.”

Providing for the future

Tremblay said it was fortunate to be able to start the program during the COVID-19 pandemic as students returned to campus from a long period of quarantine.

“It was a special year. Students were particularly looking for a community, a place for safe activities and relationships because they had lost so much of it their high school senior year when they didn’t have proms or other big events,” he said. “It was a tremendous blessing to begin the engagement internship program at such a unique moment as the university was trying to respond well to the situation. I have no idea where our ministry would be had we not had engagement interns back in August of 2020.”

Paul and Renee Armstrong are both retired from General Electric. Paul last served as a sourcing manager and Renee served as a marketing manager. Along with Catholic Campus Ministry, the couple have made gifts to Elon’s Martha and Spencer Love School of Business, the Center for Organizational Analytics, Reed Finance Center, Kernodle Center for Civic Life and student scholarships.

“We really believe in giving back and providing opportunities for people going forward. Even if it’s not something our daughter or family will benefit from,” Paul Armstrong said. “The fact that we’re able to do this even if it only helps a couple of students a year we think is worthwhile.”

By choosing to endow the scholarship, the couple will make a difference for generations of Elon students, something that also appealed to the Armstrongs.

“The endowment changes everything. It allows us to craft a program that broadens our engagement with students,” Tremblay said. “This is one of those programs that makes everything else possible. The more students who know about our ministry the more students will become involved. It’s hard to express how fundamental this is to the work that we do.”

Tremblay thanked the Armstrong family for their faith in Elon and the Catholic Campus Ministry.

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“Words fall short in my gratitude for the ways in which the Armstrong family supports our ministry. It’s not only a tremendous act of generosity but a tremendous leap of faith to trust us with such a lasting gift. It says something about the ways in which our donors believe and trust in Elon, how much the university highly values religious and spiritual life, our students and the multifaith work we’re all engaged in, and their faith in the good work that Catholic Campus Ministry is engaged in,” Tremblay said. “When you endow something, that’s a commitment to the future of a ministry and making that future a reality.”

About the Elon LEADS Campaign

With a $250 million goal, Elon LEADS is the largest fundraising campaign in the university’s history and will support four main funding priorities: scholarships for graduates the world needs, increase access to engaged learning opportunities such as study abroad, research and service learning, support for faculty and staff mentors who matter and Elon’s iconic campus. As of May 14, donors had contributed $210 million toward the goal.

Every gift to the university—including annual, endowment, capital, estate and other planned gifts—for any designation counts as a gift to the campaign, which will support students and strengthen Elon for generations to come. To learn more about how you can make an impact, visit www.elonleads.com.