“Things are Sunny Side Up at St. John’s” – Courtney Yockel ’25

Every Tuesday morning my alarm goes off at 5:55 am. I stumble out of bed, get dressed, brush my teeth, and wash a pale, tired-looking face. By 6:15, I am out the door, braving the cold air as I make my way up to Hogan 3 to catch an Uber to St. John’s Parish. Although getting up before the sun is not ideal, I instantly forget about how tired I look, the fact that I have class less than an hour after I get back to campus, and that my stomach is grumbling from not having breakfast. The warmth of the volunteers, the heat reverberating off the grill, and the smell of buttermilk biscuits ground me.

St. John’s Parish provides free meals to members of the greater Worcester area Monday through Friday, 7:30 – 10:30 am, and operates a food pantry Saturday mornings 8:00 – 10:00 am. When I first began volunteering at St. John’s, I was largely in charge of helping assemble breakfast sandwiches, scooping oatmeal, and buttering bagels. The interactions I had were subject to the patrons asking me for more whipped cream. This was a stark contrast to last semester when I volunteered at the Mustard Seed Catholic Worker. I was used to interacting directly with visitors by bringing their meals directly to their tables. I began to miss this interaction. I found myself surrounded by volunteers, separated from the people I was supposed to be serving. 

One day Pat, one of the head chefs, brought me over to the grill and taught me how to make omelets. While I continue to struggle with flipping them, often landing a folded, half-cooked egg, making omelets has surprisingly provided me with the opportunity for the interactions I had been missing. Every time a client comes up to the counter and asks Pat for an omelet, he directs them to me. As instructed by Pat, I ask them their name and what they would like in their omelet. Sometimes the encounters are brief, it’s simply a matter of agreeing to make the client an omelet. On occasion, I learn about the individual’s story. For example, one Tuesday a gentleman expressed his gratitude for finally being able to enjoy a meal that was not made in a prison kitchen. Other times, I overhear clients expressing to Pat their excitement for finally moving into their first home. For most, being able to order a custom-made meal offers a sense of dignity and acknowledgment of being cared for. I would imagine that for most of the patrons who come through the doors of the Xavier Center, few of them are being supported by their families. For these individuals, St. John’s offers not only a warm meal and a safe place to sit down but also a chance to connect with others, with the knowledge and security that at least some of one’s needs are being met.

“The Power of Gratitude” – Cate Pfau ’25

This semester is truly flying by as there is less than one month left! My first semester being a CBL Intern has been nothing but a positive experience. I feel an immense amount of pride while surrounded by an Intern team that is passionate about community-based learning, social justice, and engaging with the Worcester community. 

As my Junior year is well underway, I can say I feel very grateful for the friends I have met, the experiences I have had, and the future endeavors I have in front of me. This semester I have been fortunate to be with the community partner WPS Transition, while also taking on the program coordinator role. With the addition of the CBL Intern Program and volunteering with WPS Transition, I have gained a greater insight into the importance of community at Holy Cross. 

The WPS Transition Program is designed for 18-22 year old young adults who have intellectual disabilities. The young adults are preparing for their adult-life through community learning experiences. Every Monday the young adults come to campus for their day program. Interacting with the young adults, their paraprofessional, and their teachers quickly became the highlight of my week! As Coordinators for WPS Transition, we have put an emphasis on creating a social, welcoming, and fun environment at the program. We have spent our weeks touring different parts of campus to show the young adults a part of our lives, while learning more about them as well. The past few Mondays have consisted of blanket making and crafts in preparation for the Holy Cross Holiday Craft Fair!

I have found a lot of gratitude and enjoyment in working alongside the young adults while making tie blankets for the craft fair. Rather than getting wrapped up in my busy schedule and looking at my volunteering hours as yet another commitment, I have learned to lean into it and be grateful for the two hours I get to spend with the WPS Transition students. I have found a lot of joy in prepping the holiday crafts, listening to Christmas music, and hearing about the young adults’ weekends while working on the tie blankets. It is a wonderful feeling to be content in the company of others, and that is what I have gained through my CBL experience! By being able to create crafts and tie blankets for the past few weeks, it feels like we are all working as a team towards a common goal. 

While working with the Transition Program, I have felt emotions that align with happiness, but I have also felt confusion or anxiety about certain situations. Yet, I have learned to find gratitude for all the emotions I endure while at CBL. Every interaction or instance can be a learning experience. The main lessons I have learned from the young adults is to find happiness in the simple things, trust those around you, and create meaningful and lasting relationships. 

“Empowering Change: My Journey with Community-Based Learning at Holy Cross” – Diana Chavez Cruz ’24

My experiences with Community-Based Learning (CBL) at Holy Cross have been among the most enriching aspects of my time as a first-generation Latina college student. Working with one of the CBL community partners, El Buen Samaritano (EBS), has been an enriching experience. It broadened my knowledge and allowed me to collaborate with remarkable individuals. 

I had the privilege of engaging with El Buen Samaritano as part of my Filmmaking in Spanish course, led by Professor Franco. This hands-on course introduces students to the art of filmmaking, encouraging us to explore and experiment with the fundamental aspects of cinematographic production. Additionally, it aims to familiarize us with the artistic and technical terminology specific to Spanish and Latin American film production. 

Throughout the course, I collaborated with three fellow students, each of us taking on different roles, to create a ten-minute documentary for El Buen Samaritano. To produce this documentary, we delved into the mission and operations of EBS, and I had the opportunity to volunteer with the organization. During this time, I met Mari Gonzalez, whose dedication to combating food insecurity resonated with me as someone who grew up in a low-income community and experienced food insecurity personally. 

My time at EBS gave me a behind-the-scenes look at how Mari and her team manage the organization’s operations. Seeing their efforts in preparing and distributing hundreds of food boxes for the Worcester community was truly extraordinary. Inspired by Mari and her team’s commitment to community service, I developed a proposal to submit to the Marshall Memorial Fund committee to support EBS’s coat drive initiative. Fortunately, my proposal was accepted, allowing me to purchase and distribute winter coats for EBS’s drive. 

This CBL experience has been truly transformative, strengthening my dedication to supporting the community. As I look ahead to the opportunities and responsibilities as a CBL intern, I am eager to bring my passion for social justice and advocacy to the forefront, continuing to make a positive impact on the world.

“How I Got Here” – Rachel Derocco ’25

I have been a CBL intern for the past two months now and I must admit, I have not regretted my decision to apply to be a part of this team for one second. I have been an active member in Community-Based Learning for two years now (wow, time is flying by), and I knew from the very start I wanted to help other students feel the same sense of pride and gratitude to be involved with a program as wonderful as this one. 

For me, college has been the time for me to learn how I like to spend my free time, given that I do not have much of it, and I would not want to waste the time I do have participating in something I was not truly passionate about. This program allows me to be more deeply involved with the Holy Cross community and Worcester community in ways that I did not realize I would appreciate as much as I currently do. I have been granted so many opportunities to meet different people on and off campus that I otherwise may never have met. I love being invested in their stories and maybe even becoming a part of some of their stories. In fact, I have a story to tell. 

My freshman and sophomore years, I volunteered with JHC Hospice. Every Sunday, I would visit a specific person and comfort them in any way I can. Sometimes that looked like sitting with them while they cry and giving them someone to talk to and other times it looked like watching a movie together. My first year, I was assigned to multiple people, but this story is about one specific man. My friend and I would visit him in his little apartment for two hours every Thursday. We would play cards, eat candy, and listen to him serenade us with whatever 1950s song he was stuck on that day. It was beautiful to learn a little bit more about him every session and what his life in Worcester looked like. Our end of year project to him was a poster board with an audio recording of us finally singing to him. A week after our visits ended with him for the semester, we were notified he had passed away, which both surprised and saddened me deeply. Our advisor had let us know that only a few days before he had passed he was showing his nurse the poster board and telling her how much he had enjoyed our visits with him. At that moment, I learned how much my impact truly meant. I learned that you won’t always hear a thank you, but I don’t do this to hear a thank you. I do this because I want to help others in any way I can. 

I love being a CBL Intern, and I am so grateful for the people I have met along the way. I love being dedicated to a program that is so gracefully purposeful in its message and mission. I hope you all get the opportunity to feel the same way I do about CBL.

“A Different Holy Cross” -Erica Schofield ’25

This semester, Holy Cross is different. Whether it is different for everyone, I don’t know, but the Holy Cross I have known with all of my fellow class of 2025 classmates on campus and the familiar faces of my friends in the class of 2023 no longer. This semester, three of my closest friends are studying abroad: two in Dublin and one in Australia, along with many of my other classmates and the class of 2023 is figuring out post-grad life. Up until lately, I resented this change and was even afraid of it. 

When August rolled around and I came back to campus after moving my little sister into college, I found myself worrying about new classes, not having some of my closest friends on campus, my sister getting acclimated, and my parents adjusting to being empty-nesters. 

During our CBL orientation, we were asked to describe how we were feeling in one world, both at the beginning and end of the session. At the start of orientation, I said “excited”. At the end, we went around again. Delaney, a senior Intern, said “whole” and when it came around to me, I found myself echoing her. Up until that moment, I didn’t realize that I was waiting for the fulfillment I get through the community of the CBL Intern program and my CBL placement at Girls Inc. 

CBL makes me whole. 

In preparation for this blog post, I’ve been thinking a lot about my time at Holy Cross so far and the most impactful experiences I’ve had here. I was unbelievably lucky to have a Montserrat with a CBL component and through that, have found Girls Inc. and been accepted into the CBL Intern cohort. I’ve volunteered at Girls Inc. since then and truly haven’t looked back. As I’m writing this, I just went back to Girls Inc. to start my third year there, just like I am starting my third year on campus. It’s funny to think when I started volunteering at Girls Inc. I worried about fitting in there and enjoying myself. The connections I have found there have been influential to my personal growth, understanding of social justice in practice, and my connectedness to the Holy Cross and Worcester community. 

To sit at a meeting with the other Interns, people who also fiercely believe in the importance of community-based learning, is truly like nothing else I have ever experienced. Every Intern is driven to be a “person for and with others” and brings lived experiences and community partner connections. Furthermore, community-based learning at its core, transcends religion, politics, and other social divisions in the pursuit of positive change through civic engagement. 

It would be presumptuous to say that my worries about this year and the life transitions I am experiencing have subsided due to CBL, but CBL roots me in accepting and embracing this change. My work at Girls Inc. is the reason I am so motivated in class, so willing to engage with people I don’t know well, and so determined to discern how I will incorporate CBL’s mission into my career and life post-grad.

“Thoughts for My Final Year of CBL” -Anthony Mabardy ’24

As my final year as a Community Based Learning (CBL) Intern begins, I thought that reflecting on my last three years of experience and expressing my goals for this year would be beneficial to having a successful experience. Throughout my CBL experience, I have had wonderful opportunities to work with young students in Worcester as a tutor at multiple schools in the city. My first and second years, I volunteered as an after-school tutor at The Nativity School of Worcester, a private Jesuit school in Worcester that gives low-income students the opportunity to receive a private education for free. My first year I tutored completely online, which often made it difficult to teach as well as connect with the students. This is especially because they were young and had trouble focusing while using Zoom for a long period of time. My second year, I was able to work at The Nativity School in person. During this time, I learned a lot about myself and my ability to connect with others. By building strong relationships with the students, I learned about the impact a friendly relationship and a comfortable environment can have on a student both academically and personally. This idea also benefited me personally. This past school year, I volunteered at Worcester East Middle School as an assistant in a seventh grade English class. This was a very rewarding experience, as I was able to connect with a plethora of students. My main task was to motivate the students to do their assignments with maximum effort, explaining to them why they are important and interesting assignments.

Based on the wonderful experiences I have had the last three years as a member of the CBL program, I hope to have a strong final year. This year, I want to focus on the little moments during my volunteering and be able to appreciate every piece that has made me who I am today. I want to take this year to develop more connections as ways to help others as well as myself. I want to fully embrace myself in the culture and mission of the community partner that I am working with. This will be to maximize the experience for both those I am working with and myself. I hope that by doing this, I can connect more with the community around me in Worcester as well as the specific community partner that I am working with.

Reflections of a WooServes Intern (Catherine Cannamela ’24)

This summer, CBL Intern, Catherine Cannamela ’24 interned at the United Way of Central, MA. Catherine’s internship involved partnering with local organizations for a youth service program, intersecting with CBL in many ways! At the end of her internship, Catherine wrote a newsletter with her reflections. In her reflection, she shares how her learnings from CBL helped prepare her for her summer internship and next steps. Read Catherine’s reflection: 2023 WooServes Reflections Newsletter.

“Service Beyond Scrubs” – Courtney Yockel ’25

When I arrived at Holy Cross in August 2021, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in medicine. Having developed a passion for science in middle school, the unexpected loss of my father due to an undiagnosed medical condition, and the onslaught of the pandemic, I convinced myself that God was calling me to serve others through a healthcare profession. I told myself that the acts of service I had performed throughout high school, such as making donations, spending summers working with children from vulnerable populations, and educating myself on issues of race and discrimination were significant, but I could do more. I was placing a high value on the service of healthcare.

During my sophomore year at Holy Cross,  I began to seriously consider studying to become a physician’s assistant or a nurse practitioner following graduation. However, over winter break, shadowing in an outpatient surgeon’s office and nearly fainting at the sight of a scalpel and a drop of blood, I realized that I could not work in a medical field. I began to feel increasingly disappointed and confused. I had to find a new path that combined my interest in healthcare and serving others. 

When I returned to campus following winter break, I began volunteering at the Mustard Seed Catholic Worker. Home to a food pantry and kitchen, the Mustard Seed offers free meals to Worcester residents who lack basic meal services and resources. Through working with the Mustard Seed’s clientele, I began to appreciate the simple means of serving others, such as smiling, making eye contact, and engaging in conversation. I began to understand the power that serving a warm meal to individuals who are frequently patronized by society, such as veterans, the homeless, those with disabilities, and those recovering from addictions, can have on uplifting the human spirit and one’s sense of dignity. This form of service has value and is very significant.

As I look forward to my junior year and embrace a new path, majoring in Biology and minoring in Environmental Studies, I am excited for the possibilities that lie ahead. I am looking forward to exploring the avenues of public health and environmental justice. I am reminded of the poem about the value of even the smallest acts of kindness, which speaks to the idea that even if we’re only able to help one person, the work we do is still meaningful. I am now comfortable with exploring a new path outside of direct patient care. I realize that there are so many ways to serve others in a meaningful way and make a difference. 

“How Lucky I Am” – Patrick McQuillen ’23

My senior year blog post has been a moment that I have looked forward to ever since I was a sophomore, reading the thoughts of my fellow senior interns as they each prepared for their time after Holy Cross. However, now that it is my turn to write a reflective blog post about my time at Holy Cross, I just couldn’t find a way to properly express my gratitude for my past three years in Worcester, Massachusetts. That was, until I found this picture that I saved in my phone as I left for college in the fall of 2019. The picture comes from the book series, Winnie the Pooh, a childhood favorite of mine. Though I have many favorite quotes from the adventures of Winnie and all of his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood, no quote has been more impactful than, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” This quote has been especially impactful to me during moments of change because it reminds me to be grateful for painful goodbyes. As I sit at my desk wiping tears away from my eyes to complete this blog post, I am once again reminded about just how grateful I am to be able to volunteer in the city of Worcester and work with some of the brightest minds on campus as a part of the CBL intern Program. 

As a first-year student, I had little to no idea about what I wanted to do, and how I would spend my next four years at the college. So, when I was told that my class had a mandatory service requirement, I willingly welcomed the opportunity to serve at Ascentria Care Alliance. With an open and vulnerable mindset, I jumped at the opportunity to lead “conversation classes” during my two hours at Ascentria. On a weekly basis, myself and about ten individuals of various linguistic backgrounds would practice basic conversation skills by talking about our interests. At first, conversation was very simple, discussing topics like favorite movies, dishes and music. However, as weeks went on, conversations between students and myself deepened as discussion turned to the feelings of uncertainty that many students felt regarding the impending COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, these discussions were abruptly interrupted as students from around the nation were sent home due to the spike in COVID-19 cases in the spring of 2020. It was during this time that I realized how much these students, and my time at Ascentria, meant to me. It was also during this time that I decided to apply to the CBL Intern Program. Oh how lucky I am that I made such a decision. 

What followed my decision to apply to the CBL Intern Program has been the most impactful three years of my life. As a sophomore, attending school online in the fall, the CBL Intern Program provided me with community during a time when so many felt alone. From weekly “office hour” conversations with Prof. Jenkins, to monthly intern meetings where I got to meet new people from the safety of home, the 2021 intern cohort was a group of people that provided me with a sense of consistency in an uncertain time. 

Once it was safe enough to return back to fully in person classes and service, I was reminded about my passion for service and justice during my year at the St. John’s food pantry. As a resident of the Vernon Hill community during my junior year, I would walk myself down to the parish in the morning and help work the kitchen for two hours a week. Although this was a drastically different experience in comparison to my time at Ascentria, I greatly appreciated the relationships that I was able to build with other volunteers who were on the same mission as myself. Getting the opportunity to work with like minded individuals on a weekly basis is an experience I will never forget, how lucky I am to have worked with such awesome people. On the topic of awesome people, promotions within the J.D. Power Center gave the 2022 intern cohort the opportunity to meet a new intern coordinator, Mattie Carroll. Mattie’s positive impact to the Donelan Office and intern cohort was immediately felt, and it was clear how grateful that each individual was to have her join the group in an administrative capacity. The senior celebration for the class of 2022, was a reminder about the gratitude that everyone felt for each other  and helped me process my transition into my final year at Holy Cross. How lucky I am to have known every member of the 2022 intern cohort. 

And last but not least, I am especially grateful for my last year at Holy Cross. My weekly service at the WPS Adult Learning Center in the fall provided me with great support from coordinators like Kristin Barfaro during a difficult time when I suffered a broken hand in the fall of 2022. Additionally, I am especially grateful for my time at the City View Elementary school during this spring. The relationships I have been able to build with younger kids who attend an extra hours program have been especially meaningful to me because I am able to escape from the daily stresses of life for two hours a week through their creativity and humor. Obviously, I am especially grateful for the 2023 intern cohort, but I fear that I cannot find the words to describe just how lucky I am to have met such a great group of people. So, I will save it for the last intern meeting of the year 🙂 .  Oh how lucky I am that finishing this blog post is so hard.

“An Ignatian Examen of My Spring Break Experience in Wheeling, WV” by Erica Schofield ’25

An Ignatian Examen of My Spring Break Experience in Wheeling, WV

Ignatian spirituality is defined by repetitive reflection and contemplation. After an impactful Spring Break Immersion experience last spring in Alamosa, Colorado that ignited internal contemplation, I decided to go on another immersion trip this past month. I was placed at an Appalachia site, The Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling in Wheeling, VA. After a snowstorm delayed our flight, I finally embarked to West Virginia on Sunday night with 5 of my peers. When we arrived in West Virginia on Sunday morning, we were greeted by our site contact, Becky. I could immediately tell it was a cause close to her heart. After a quick orientation of the kitchen and dropping our luggage and sleeping bags upstairs, we got straight to work: chopping produce, serving food, cleaning, and sharing meals with members of the Wheeling community.

Over the course of the week, I met many members of the Wheeling Community and was exposed to a different story than the one I had previously been told and believed about Appalachia and its people. The people coming to the soup kitchen came from different walks of life, backgrounds, and situations. I didn’t expect the people of Wheeling to open up to me – why should they? Nothing about our circumstances for being at the soup kitchen was the same. And yet, they did.

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie put in her TedTalk “The danger of a single story,” single stories about groups or types of people are powerful and pervasive. And yet, it’s not exactly our fault for believing them in the first place. It is human nature to stereotype and categorize, a survival instinct. However, once we are aware of our tendencies, we should seek out opportunities to rewrite the stereotypes in our heads. As Adichie eloquently states, “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete.” My week in Wheeling  changed my perspective and opened my heart to the stories of a community I hadn’t had the chance to listen to before.

Many people hold stereotypes about people who use social services or soup kitchens. Whether it’s that they are very poor, unhoused, using drugs, or somehow lesser human, these stereotypes are prominent in the media and are believed by many people, even people who don’t realize they think them. While it is undeniable that some people who are homeless are struggling with substance use or addiction, many community members who I met were not. The Wheeling community was multidimensional: a community undoubtedly dealing with poverty and hunger but also full of happy young children, new parents, and elderly people full of wisdom and good stories.

I think my experience in Wheeling is valuable for the Holy Cross community at large. We are fortunate to be studying here, surrounded by a supportive community. We are also a campus on a hill, secluded or sheltered from the Worcester community both physically and symbolically. That is the value of CBL, the opportunity to dispel the own stories you hold. To find new empathy in your heart. To form connections with people across differences of identity and lived experience.

There are always going to be people who “prove” the stereotype right or who take advantage of a system aimed at helping them. But the few do not, and should not, speak for the whole. There is never a reason to stop listening, engaging, empathizing, and helping when possible.