“How CBL Prepared me for My First Internship,” Kara Cuzzone ’19 (Reposted from the J.D. Power Center Blog)

I was first introduced to community-based learning (CBL) through my Montserrat course, “Exploring Differences”. To be honest, at first I was pretty ambivalent about it. The idea of going to St. Mary’s Healthcare Center once a week and visiting with a resident seemed a bit mundane. After all, what would I really be doing?My previous service experiences had always been concrete. I went in with a purpose like making sandwiches at a soup kitchen, or tutoring elementary school students. My professor’s recommendation to “avoid expectations” and just see what happened seemed a little impossible given my goal-oriented personality. But nonetheless, I decided to try.

By the time I completed my first semester of CBL, that all changed. I was hooked. I was in awe of just how much I had learned by simply showing up, and being present at St. Mary’s. My visits mostly involved listening to my resident talk about her childhood, and filling her in on the details of my life. Objectively, it didn’t seem like very important work. But after she asked for a hug and told me that she loved me after one visit, I realized that assumption couldn’t be further from the truth.

This experience prepared me for my first internship as an editorial intern for Cosmopolitanand Seventeen magazines because in a lot of ways, an internship is a similar to a CBL experience. Since you’re not in a concrete position, you’re basically required to show up and do whatever needs to be done, pitching in any way you can. You’re also not usually doing the “important” work. While this can feel disappointing to some, when I began to think of it in relation to my CBL experiences, it didn’t bother me. I realized that the small, sometimes tedious tasks of interns are often necessary in order to keep the larger operations running. So in that sense, the work is actually is pretty important and meaningful, you just have to look at it in a new way.

I enjoyed my CBL experience so much that I decided to apply to be a CBL Intern during my sophomore year. If you’re unfamiliar, the position involves assisting the daily operations of the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning and deepening one’s understanding of community engagement. The application process requires a resume, a detailed application, and an interview. Considering I was still a first-year when I applied, this was my first real experience with applying and interviewing for an internship position, so the process served as a great learning opportunity for me.

After being accepted, the CBL Intern program also greatly prepared me for my first internship in the real world. As a CBL Intern, I learned how to interact professionally with supervisors, collaborate with team members, and assist in day-to-day operations of an office. It served as a great stepping stone before venturing into an internship position that was unaffiliated with Holy Cross. Without my CBL office experiences, I definitely wouldn’t have been as confident in my abilities to successfully contribute to a working team.

All of this is to say: take advantage of leadership and community engagement opportunities at Holy Cross whenever possible. They are a great low-stakes way to test the waters and get some experience in the outside world while still having the support of the Holy Cross community when you need it.

Kara Cuzzone ’19 is a senior Anthropology major. Read more of her work at karacuzzone.com

“My Experience at the 2019 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering” – Paige Cohen ’21

On February 2-5, I traveled with four other members of the Holy Cross community — Yankelly Villa ‘19, Jennifer Feraud ‘21, Motherlove Agbortoko ‘21, and Robert Jones, Associate Director of the Office of Multicultural Education, to the 2019 Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, DC. CSMG is an annual conference sponsored by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) with the professed purpose of “bringing together hundreds of participants whose faith inspires them to respond to pressing current domestic and global challenges relating to poverty, war, injustice and the promotion of human life and dignity.” Yankelly, Jennifer, and Motherlove were invited to attend the conference as part of their work as Multicultural Peer Educators (MPEs) here at Holy Cross, and I was invited because of my role as a CBL intern. We were all part of the CSMG’s Young Leaders Initiative, which gathers students from colleges and universities across the country to connect with and learn from one another about working toward social justice and the tenets of Catholic social teaching.

The theme of this year’s CSMG was Let Justice Flow (cf. Amos 5:24): A Call to Restore and Reconcile. CSMG organizers were open from the start of the conference about the Catholic Church’s many recent struggles, from the new revelations about clerical sexual abuse to concerns about racism within the Church, especially prompted by the USCCB’s November 2018 Pastoral Letter Against Racism. Restoration and Reconciliation were indeed the key words of the CSMG, acknowledging the Church’s institutional shortcomings but also highlighting the important social ministry that is still occurring within the Church and reaffirming the Church’s commitment to safeguarding the dignity of all peoples.

Over the four days of the conference, we attended a variety of panel discussions, reflection sessions, and community workshops, touching on a range of subjects, including racism, immigration policy, the environment, crisis pregnancies, affordable housing, nonviolence, and many more. I was particularly struck by the CSMG’s commitment to diversity. Throughout the weekend, we heard from a variety of voices within the Catholic church: clergy and laity, men and women, wealthy and working class, African-American, Asian-American, Native American, and Latinx. I was reminded of the true meaning of the word “catholic:” universal. The CSMG stressed that the Catholic Church is not just for one group of people, it is for all.  After a year of scandal and betrayal that has left me questioning the core values of my childhood faith, I was encouraged to hear from all of these voices and to see that the Church carries on, attempting to do better and to minister to and protect the dignity of all people.

On Tuesday, the final day of the conference, CSMG participants broke into state delegations to make advocacy visits to Capitol Hill. Rob Jones, Yankelly, Jennifer, Motherlove, and I traveled with the Massachusetts delegation to meet with Representative Jim McGovern, the congressman representing Worcester. In our meeting, we stressed some key issues: finding permanent legal solutions for Dreamers and TPS holders and maintaining protections for unaccompanied minors and asylum seekers; funding poverty-reducing international development and humanitarian programs; preserving funding to nutrition programs; investing in affordable housing; and supporting environmental stewardship. Representative McGovern expressed a shared interest in and commitment to addressing all of these issues.

I come away from the conference both encouraged in having met a diverse, vibrant community of Catholics committed to social justice but also aware of my own responsibility to bring my new knowledge of these many pressing social justice issues back to the Holy Cross campus in my work as a CBL intern and beyond. I am thankful that I have the opportunity to work in the Donelan Office every week and see how Holy Cross students put Catholic social teaching into action. I would encourage any Holy Cross student who has the opportunity to do so to attend a CSMG in the future as a way to bring greater context to Holy Cross’ mission to be “men and women, for and with others.”

“Reflections on CBL after a Semester in Washington,” Christian Realbuto ’20

I recently spent last fall semester in Washington, D.C. There, I was fortunate to witness the legislative angle of service, and get a sense of how lawmakers, government agencies and interest groups alike interact to fight for those in need.

Many of the programs, talks, formal events, and happenings around D.C. are designed primarily around the focus of enacting social good. In fact, some of our community partners may even interact with the federal programing and funding that gets discussed on Capitol Hill. Here, agencies are grappling with questions like: how much money should we allocate for this federal grant? Is this government program still working and feasible? Does this issue affect our constituency? What government agencies are currently playing a role in confronting this issue?

Unfortunately, however, far more political topics end up taking hold of Washington, and the greater media landscape as a whole drowns out a lot of these critical questions. Amidst this reality, I believe CBL can be a source of comfort and inspiration for anyone grappling with questions of social justice. In CBL, we are constantly exchanging stories and perspectives that, in my opinion, are critical to engaging with a globalized, empathetic, and critical view in our communities.

Notably, the Washington, DC media landscape offers its viewer a fair share of dramatized, “us versus them,” reactions to American politics. However, I think that when it comes to gaining a perspective on social justice issues, Holy Cross’s CBL program is an incredible place to start, and build an informed lens amidst today’s faced-paced society.

Often, I would find myself wondering what Washington politics would be like if our elected leaders committed themselves to a CBL program as well. Perhaps they might partake in the same gifts we exchange with our community partners – the beauty of listening and experiencing perspectives that differ from our own day-to-day.

It is so wonderful to be back on the Worcester Hill, and be around the incredibly impactful CBL community here at Holy Cross again!

“Reflections on the 2019 NPCC” – Anh Nguyet Phan ’21

“If I had the chance to become a CBL intern, I wish to not only explore but also spread Worcester’s beauty and diversity among the student body here at Holy Cross.” I remember expressing this during my CBL interview. To this day, I remain passionate about this. Within the past several months, I was able to achieve this in a multitude of ways, which is only made possible by being a part of CBL in the Donelan Office.

One way that I was able to experience and bring a little bit of Worcester back to the hill was by volunteering at a local elementary school called, Woodland Academy. Volunteering at Woodland Academy was a trip down memory lane for me, because it was actually my elementary school. Woodland Academy is very close to my heart because is it the place that taught me my first English word and allowed me to fall in love with learning. To this day, I not only love attending classes and expanding my knowledge, but I also love going out and learning about my community, and what I can do to better it. At Woodland, I tutor sixth graders on the subject of math. The two hours that I get to spend at Woodland is what I look forward to most. The grand smiles that I get to witness after the students bravely conquer a math problem truly make my day. Being able to observe Woodland and the significant impact they are having on these students’ life makes me very proud of where I came from.

In addition to volunteering at Woodland Academy each week, I was also fortunate enough to be able to experience another aspect of Worcester through the 2019 Non-Profit Careers Conference (NPCC). This particular conference served to introduce participants to the wide range of career options in the non-profit sector, engage participants upon reflections on how they can implement their skills in service to the broader society, and prepare them for public service by providing various experiences and skills. The main reason I was interested in the NPCC is because of my strong desire to serve my community and learn more about the non-profit sector. Before the NPCC, I was not very educated on the various options out there, nor the business side of non-profits. In fact, I did not think there were any career options in the non-profit sector for dentists, which is the field I am currently pursuing. Just a few days in, I was proven wrong. There are so many organizations and services that I can take part in, and if I wanted to, I can even start my own organization, which was something the NPCC relayed to the students. From networking and talking to Holy Cross alumna, Amy Fitzpatrick, I learned how important it was to be passionate about the mission that I will be participating in, to know about the business part of non-profits, and, lastly, how to write grant proposals. The Non-Profit Careers Conference solidified my desires to work for a mission, rather than a paycheck.

In addition to equipping participants with various skills needed to succeed in the non-profit sector, participants were also placed in groups to work with a community partner in Worcester. I was fortunate enough to work with four other Holy Cross students to aid the St. Mary Health Care Center, which is a Catholic rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility near the Main South neighborhood of Worcester. The challenge that St. Mary and Metz, St. Mary’s food service provider, is currently facing is that residents, their families, and staff are giving feedback that the meal selection is limited. In addition to this, some residents, especially Spanish residents, do not understand what meals are offered and the alternative options. Lastly, St. Mary staffs work hard to serve hot meals to the residents during meal times; however, once residents actually receive their meals, the food is sometimes cold. To assess this challenge, we conducted a survey to find out more about the residents, their families, and the staff’s opinion on the dining and eating experiences. Specifically, we focused on the seven key areas of Metz food service, which includes the quality of food, variety of food, temperature of food, quality of service, friendliness of staff, accuracy of order, and attention to residents’ needs. With this, the team pooled the data together and were not only able to successfully present it to the St. Mary staff, but also gave some suggestions as to how they can approach the feedback they received. It was truly an honor to work with St. Mary and their residents, who made me feel at home while talking to them one on one. I cannot say enough about my experiences at the NPCC, and I hope that people take advantage of this amazing opportunity next year!