CBL as an Approach to Service and Relationship-Building – Katelyn Lyons ’18

My first semester at Holy Cross, I enrolled in Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies — partly because I wanted to have academic concepts to back up my feminist ideals and partly because I wanted to spend time in the Worcester community. As a first year student, I was pretty sure I wanted to study anthropology. I wanted the opportunity to hear people tell their own stories and learn about experiences different than my own. I wanted to immerse myself in the communities I would become a part of.

Now, as a senior anthropology major, I am so thankful that my 18 year-old self had the wisdom to start engaging with my new community immediately. My first CBL placement was in the thrift shop attached to Abby’s House, a local non-profit that provides safe shelter and affordable housing to women experiencing homelessness. After that first semester, I went on to continue volunteering, become a summer intern, and this past summer, act as both volunteer and researcher.

As part of the Holy Cross Weiss Summer Research Fellowship, I was able to spend 8 weeks of this past summer volunteering at the Abby’s House thrift shop. Along with my volunteer work, I interviewed 3 fellow volunteers and engaged in a self-examination, with the goal of writing a paper about how volunteers make meaning of their experiences at Abby’s House. I am still in awe of the richness of my fellow volunteer’s lives. I am grateful for their willingness to tell me their stories and for their commitment to Abby’s House. One of the women let me shadow her at another Worcester organization where she volunteers and told me how people always ask why she does what she does. “You don’t have to be here,” they say, “You’re not one of us.” Her response is always, “We’re all human.” Another finds strength and community at Abby’s House, which has carried her through challenging times — including a battle with cancer. My last interviewee grew up in a “developing” country and noticed social inequalities from a young age. She knows something about almost every one of our regular shoppers and never fails to greet each person in either English and Spanish.

CBL has given me a great gift in the form of an opportunity. The first day I walked in to Abby’s House, I took great care to not just give of my time and presence, but to look for what I could learn. That opportunity to be open and humble, to give and receive, has truly shaped my Holy Cross experience and the way I approach the world. I have formed relationships with volunteers, donors, and shoppers who are citizens of Worcester. They have taught me little things like the best place to get ice cream, and they have taught me important things like the complex social, economic, and political issues facing the city of Worcester. This lesson on how to approach service and relationship-building is something I know I will carry with me, far beyond the gates of Holy Cross.

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