The Catholic University of America

Exploring a Passion for Service


For senior Larissa Scarpa, helping those with disabilities and mental illness is a cause that’s close to her heart.

“My older brother has autism and working with people with disabilities and mental illness is something I’ve always been passionate about,” Scarpa said. “I’ve been around it my entire life, which made me want to help people who can’t help themselves.”

During her time as a CUA student, she has explored that passion in new ways through internships and extracurricular activities. During her sophomore year, Scarpa took an internship as a helpline volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, an organization that provides advocacy, support, education, and research for those suffering from mental illness. As a helpline volunteer, Scarpa answered phones, responding to inquiries of all kinds — from loved ones seeking information to those suffering and looking for support groups.

“I would end up being on the phone with some people for 45 minutes,” Scarpa said. “They just needed someone to talk to and at the end of it, they would thank me. It’s a very difficult field to be in and a lot of people feel like they’re not being heard so to be thanked in this way meant a lot.”

Scarpa has also been active with the University chapter of Best Buddies throughout her time as a student. Best Buddies is an organization that creates opportunities for one-to-one friendship and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Scarpa joined Best Buddies the first semester of her freshman year and has been paired with the same buddy ever since. After serving two years as the chapter’s vice president, she now works as membership coordinator for Best Buddies. Her job is ensuring that students maintain relationships with their buddies.

“I love Best Buddies because when everyone goes to the events, they are just themselves,” Scarpa said. “It’s a place where the buddies and the students can both go where it’s like a home and a family and everyone is welcome.”

This year, Scarpa has an internship in human resources in the criminal division of the Department of Justice. No matter where her career takes her, she said she hopes to continue working with people with disabilities in some way.

Scarpa said she loves Catholic University for the small classes and community feel.

“All the professors I’ve had know my name,” she said. “I’ll see them two years later and they’ll say, ‘Hi Larissa. How are you?’

She also likes how helpful professors and staff are. She landed her current internship with the help of the career services office.

“Everyone is so willing to help you and make sure you are doing the best you can,” she said. “It feels like people actually care, which is a nice feeling.”




CUA Success Stories

> Success Stories Home

> Suggest a Success Story

> More CUA News







Larissa Scarpa

Hometown: Vineland, N.J.

Major: Psychology, with a minor in philosophy

Favorite class:
The Philosophy of Human Nature with Dr. Herbert Hartmann. "I liked all the literature and there were lots of brothers and seminarians from all different countries in the class. It was cool to hear people talk about things from all over the world in their own accents."

Best memory from CUA: Watching fireworks with her friends at Luaupalooza

Favorite place in D.C.: The stairs to the right side of the Lincoln Memorial after a run