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    Alumni Profile: Mary Jo Weinig

    October 1, 2018

    Every year, select Syracuse University students spend a semester in Florence, Italy, taking graduate classes in Renaissance Art. While this study abroad program is widely known throughout the campus community, the woman who helps make it happens may not be. Mary Jo Weinig, a New York City speech pathologist, philanthropist and founder of Read a Recipe for Literacy, helps provide these students with once in a lifetime experiences.

    Like many current students, Weinig’s passion for Italy began as an undergraduate student, when she spent a semester doing an independent study in Rome. “I fell in love with Italy, specifically Rome,” Weinig explains. “I wanted nothing more than to get back to Italy. Syracuse was offering a fellowship in Art History and I was very dedicated to Art History.” Unlike other programs, it was a scholarship offer to Weinig that send her to Florence with SU. “Elizabeth Taylor said ‘If anyone is stupid enough to give me a million dollars for a movie, I’m not stupid enough to turn it down.’ If someone is stupid enough to give me money, and a degree opportunity, to study with great professors, I’m not stupid enough to turn it down! I had no money, so the scholarship was a wonderful opportunity. I studied in Florence and it was a great program, and it still is! Which is why my husband and I support the program through our work with the Michelangelo class.”

    For those unfamiliar, students in the Florence program get once in a lifetime experiences thanks to Weinig’s generosity. “There’s a seminar present every year by Dr. Warren. She gives the seminar to the graduate students, of which I was a participant years ago. I never had the opportunity to go to the Sistine Chapel with a professor, and I certainly never had the opportunity to do it as a private visit. That’s what the students get to do this year, and have for several past Novembers, thanks to the support of our foundation.”

    Weinig’s generosity extends over the Atlantic to her home in NYC. “I was working in textile conservation in New York, but I felt that it was too insular of a lifestyle,” explains Weinig. “I’m a huge believer in volunteerism and I was doing volunteer work in New York and felt that I wasn’t able to really contribute that much as an Art Historian. So I decided I would become a speech pathologist, which would give me a skillset I could use in giving back. I became interested in other types of communication and I started Read a Recipe for Literacy (RRL). “RRL works to strengthen the community by empowering its members with better communication skills.  And we do that in a way that may surprise you,” reads the nonprofit’s mission statement.

    “We use recipes – literal and figurative ones – to build literacy.  ‘Our recipes’ are created with the help of our local partners.  Because of their hands on involvement, the children learn about their local environment and also build healthier lifestyles.” Each week, as part of an eight-week program, a trained facilitator will work with elementary school children with a specific theme in mind. From there, different communication exercises and techniques are built around the theme with the goal of encouraging multiple different types of communication.

    However, Italy will always have Weinig’s heart. “I go every year in November for the Michelangelo seminar. I talk with the students, learn about their research and at the end, explain that I had a degree given to me by Syracuse University and this is part of my giving back. And that when they graduate and become rich and famous or whatever, I hope that they’ll be able to be generous as well.”