As a proud Catholic, Josh Mounsey ’24 was drawn to the University of St. Thomas after reading its mission statement describing a commitment to advancing the common good. A native of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, an island country in the Caribbean, Mounsey arrived in the Twin Cities in early 2020 just in time to experience his first snowfall. Of course, spring semester proved to be a unique one for Mounsey and the entire St. Thomas community because of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and classes moving online.
There’s one thing that wasn’t new for Mounsey – a passion for policy making. A first-year political science and environmental studies major, Mounsey is focused on alleviating environmental stress affecting people as well as wildlife. And his dedication to the common good extends far beyond his schoolwork. It’s engrained in his actions, including his work with Cross Catholic Outreach’s Box of Joy.
Upon becoming involved with the program that sends boxes filled with toys and small gifts to children in need around the world, Mounsey was selected as a project leader within the organization and made a commitment to pack 5,000 boxes. Through building strong connections across the St. Thomas community, as well as various community organizations within the Twin Cities, Mounsey has filled over 4,500 boxes and collected nearly 6,000 toy donations. His partnership with the St. Thomas cross country and track and field teams has raised over $500 dollars for materials to fill the remaining 500 boxes.
We recently caught up with Mounsey, who also is a member of the men’s tennis team, to discuss everything from his experience as an international student on campus to his involvement with Box of Joy. Here are the highlights from our conversation.
How has your experience been as an international student at the University of St. Thomas?
Being an international student is unique in that you bring a unique culture to people who are not really accustomed to it. That is appreciated by others because they’re getting to learn various things about you. They’re definitely going to learn about what some of the social norms are in your country. Over a period of time, that will encourage a strong relationship with that person, especially if you know how to maintain a friendship with someone. It’s been really good for me being an international student.
What is something you miss about home and what is something you enjoy about Minnesota?
One thing that I miss about home is being able to go on adventures. Another thing I miss about home is that my country is a volcanic island. Therefore, it’s very mountainous and usually I will go on hikes with my friends and family. One thing I like about Minnesota is that nature is a very important thing here. I see how the environment plays an important role in everyone’s life here and that is important to me. Also, there are a lot of water bodies, mainly lakes. We don’t have lakes [at home], but we have rivers and waterfalls. That is very adventurous to me because I probably will not be able to see all 10,000 lakes by the end of college.
How did you get involved with the work you are doing through Cross Catholic Outreach?
The spring semester ended on May 22. Between then and June 22, I was just reading books, articles, watching television and exercising. But that was all I was doing. I had a lot of energy being built up in my body. I wanted it to be used for a good cause that would alleviate a specific problem.
I spoke to someone from the Center for Common Good and they gave me some really good insights, but I wanted to do something independently. I researched various things and I got into contact with Cross Catholic Outreach, which is based in Florida, and they spoke to me about various programs that they do. One of these programs is the Box of Joy project. It’s the program I loved most and I also think it’s the best program Cross Catholic has. They wanted me to become a project leader, which has a lot of tasks and a lot of responsibilities. I was ready for those responsibilities because I wanted to do something very inspiring over the summer. I told them the number of boxes I thought I could manage was 5,000.
What people or organizations helped you with this project along the way?
I had fostered a connection with the Church of St. Cecilia in St. Paul. They provided storage for me, which I really was appreciative of. The next step was obviously to distribute the boxes. I got five people on board and I told them that I wanted to distribute at least 1,000 boxes in one week.
Additionally, I did an interview with The Catholic Spirit and I think that was one of the best steps going forward. I told The Catholic Spirit my story, and the amount of boxes that I still had to distribute. When the story was published, a lot of Catholics that read it sent me emails and called me. I was very happy about it because some people filled 10 boxes, some filled one box, some filled five boxes, but the most important part of this publication was that someone reached out to me via email. His name was James Barthel and he was very generous. I really extend my deepest gratitude to him. He donated over 4,000 toys from his TLC Toys Inc. to this project that I’m running. When he donated those 4,000 toys, I knew I was onto something good. That gave me the motivation to finish this project and execute it well.
Finally, I reached out to Joe Sweeney at St. Thomas, who is the women’s cross country coach. He fell in love with the project and I’m very grateful for it. The cross country teams partnered with the track and field teams to pack 107 boxes and they raised about $585. This pandemic has caused a lot of economic instability for a lot of people. When I saw those donations from students, I was very happy about it.
The Knights of Columbus were very good in that they started to do a lot of stuff for me, especially on the logistical side. They took all the boxes from St. Cecilia and gave two parishes 1,000 boxes each, so that’s 2,000 boxes right there. Then with the other sets of boxes – I think there were over 1,000 left – I spoke to Vice President for Student Affairs Karen Lange. She fell in love with this project, as well, and organized storage for me at the Anderson Student Center. After that, a lot of boxes were being filled mainly through connections that the Knights of Columbus fostered. About 90% of the boxes are filled right now.
How do you stay motivated to keep pursuing these different goals within this project?
There are three very important reasons why I started this project. One is because of my mom. I grew up with my mom. She went to university, went back to St. Vincent, started a well-paying job and was able to help a lot of people in our community who were experiencing some sort of hardship.
The second reason is that I knew I had a goal I wanted to achieve; and the magnitude of help that I have received through connections with those specific individuals also motivated me to do this project.
The third reason is because I believe one person should be kind to another person. Kindness is something that revolves around my heart and it’s hard for me not to be kind to another person.
What kept me going was continuously remembering those three reasons why I started the project.
Who is your biggest inspiration in your life?
My mom is definitely my biggest inspiration because she taught me to continue to do acts of kindness. Once you do an act of kindness for someone, hopefully they will do one for someone else and acts of kindness will continue to grow. In that way, society will be transformed in a way where there will be less violence and less crime, because we will all realize we are connected to one another. Hopefully that is a society I can live and thrive in in the future.