On March 11th, the Holy Cross community received the news that, because of the global pandemic of COVID-19, the College would be moving all learning online, in-person events and activities would be canceled, and that essentially everyone had to vacate campus as quickly as possible. This decision was made so as to minimize physical contact between people in order to slow the spread of coronavirus. For the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning, this decision had particular implications, as contact is at the core of every single thing we do: contact with community partners and a variety of Worcester community members, contact with faculty and their courses, and contact with a variety of other community engagement programs on campus.
Our leadership program, the Community-Based Learning Intern Program, also felt the drastic impact of the College’s decision. This is because, again, a highlight of the CBL Intern program is the contact the Interns have with our community partners, with our courses, with our office space, and with each other. An example of this is how the 16 Interns utilize the Donelan Office space itself. If you have ever passed by the Donelan Office when walking along the hallway of Smith 3, you likely glanced into the Donelan Office and saw two, three, four, or five people in there at a time, eating cookies, getting work done, and laughing so much that at least one person had tears in their eyes. The Interns would fill the office to the brim, not only with themselves and their stuff, but with their hearts and minds, with their ideas and emotions, with their leadership. This contact, certainly, has not been possible in the past ten weeks as we have been in dispersion, away from campus.
Despite losing the physical space of the office and the ability to be in physical contact with so many, the CBL Interns have persisted in their leadership, helping to continue the work of community-based learning. Their leadership has proven that the work that we do is really about connection more so than about contact. Sure, the physical contact can help with making connections, but connection can be made in dispersion, too.
While these virtual times are no replacement for the in-person times we have had in CBL and that we hope to have in CBL as soon as it’s possible to safely gather again, these virtual times have been fulfilling and meaningful in their own unique ways. They would not be as fulfilling and meaningful without acts of great leadership. The CBL Interns’ work over the past two months has proven that when you put your mind and heart to it, connection is absolutely possible even when contact is not. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “the ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” These times that we’ve experienced while physically distanced from each other most definitely have been challenging and controversial times. The CBL Interns, though, have faced these challenges and controversies head-on and shone brightly because of their leadership in dispersion. This leadership has inspired us and so many to persist in making and maintaining connections.
On Friday, May 15, 2020, 20 senior Spanish majors were inducted into the Spanish Honor Society, Sigma Delta Pi. All 20 students participated in at least one CBL course, with 90% of them first encountering CBL in Spanish 301: “Spanish Composition and Conversation.” Senior CBL Intern, Katie Kelsh was among the inductees. Katie takes to the blog to reflect on how CBL has been so important to her Spanish major experience. Congratulations Katie and to all the senior Spanish majors on this achievement! The Donelan Office thanks the Spanish Department for all that they do to encourage Spanish students to take part in community-based learning. View a video montage celebrating all of the senior inductees, created by Professor Bridget Franco of the Spanish Department.
Lately, I have frequently found myself helping my brother with his Spanish homework. As I sit with him at the dining room table, repeating vocabulary words and attempting to explain to him the difference between the preterit and imperfect tenses, I keep thinking about my own journey with Spanish. During my first year at Holy Cross, after five years of Spanish classes, I signed up to work with the Worcester Public School Transition Program when they came to Holy Cross where I would spend time with them and also be able to practice my Spanish. However, during the first day that I spent with Worcester Transition Program, when they asked me what my favorite meal at Crossroads was, I became nervous and struggled to answer the question. Thinking about that moment, I have realized how important the CBL component of my Spanish major has been. It has given me the opportunity to gain confidence in actually using my Spanish to effectively communicate with others. The simple act of weekly conversation had helped me grow incredibly as a Spanish student. Spending time with my community partners, I was learning new vocabulary, the ways to distinguish between a Puerto Rican and an Argentine accent, and why they call the tasty Cuban dish ropa vieja. These moments were critical to my understanding of Hispanic language and cultures.
My time spent with my Worcester community partners prepared me for my semester spent abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina. While not technically a CBL experience, living in Buenos Aires for a semester was definitely the embodiment of experiential learning. Having experience conversing with others in a second language helped prepare me for this new adventure. I was experiencing a new culture, speaking a second language, and living in a foreign city. It was truly the quintessential CBL experience. The lessons that I learned from my community partners such as being open to having conversations with strangers, making mistakes, and learning from others helped me through a challenging but rewarding semester. Taking my language learning out of the classroom and into real life meant daily lessons such as the importance difference between llevar and traer when ordering take out and how after many years of Spanish classes I finally started to understand how and when to use the subjunctive. Whether it was through CBL or in Buenos Aires, it has been these moments, outside of the classroom, when ordering coffee or chatting with the doorman as I waited for the elevator, that I finally understood why I enjoyed learning Spanish. It wasn’t knowing exactly when to use the preterit or imperfect tense, rather it was how learning a new language allowed me to communicate, have conversations, and simply connect with many new people. These real-life experiences, many offered by CBL, take language learning to the next level in allowing students to carry their classroom learning into real life, enabling students to learn culture and connect with people in their global and local community.
Recently, I attended the Spanish Honors Society Induction where I listened to my fellow students describe what their time as a Spanish major had brought to their life. Listening to each student speak made it was obvious that the Spanish major was so much more than just a set of classes we had taken. Student after student spoke about not only learning a new language, but the endless opportunity and experiences that came along with that language, such as finding out they could learn and live in a completely different country or getting to know their host mother. This was what we all loved as Spanish majors, the gift of language that gives us the ability to converse and connect with people across the world, people we might have never met otherwise. However, it did take a while to get to that point. The experiences we had and people we met through CBL helped us gain the confidence and knowledge to begin using our gift and I could not be more grateful for that.
Upon the end of their time as Interns in the Donelan Office and their graduation from Holy Cross in May, our seven senior CBL Interns were asked to reflect on one or more of the following questions: (1) What is my greatest learning from being a CBL Intern? (2) How have I grown in my time as a CBL Intern? (3) What will I take with me from the CBL Intern experience into my next step? They each share thoughtful remarks about how their time as Interns has shaped and molded their Holy Cross experiences.
Hannah Benson ’20: My greatest lesson from being a CBL Intern will always be the lesson of collaboration. I have learned that there is so much power in starting new ideas with others. As a group, we inspire each other, and because of this, the outcome can reach its full potential. Not only is this true for the CBL interns but for partnerships with community partners, other CBL Holy Cross students, professors, SPUD leaders, and more. Some of my best ideas come from conversations with others.
It can be difficult to consider my own growth as an Intern, but I know it’s there because I surround myself with people who let me know. I started in the CBL office as a sophomore, went abroad in my junior year, and came back as a senior and it still feels like yesterday that I was given the opportunity to start working closely with the office. I think of examples like taking Professor Sterk Barrett my sophomore and senior years and facilitating discussions in Professor Lipsitz’s “Science of Happiness” Montserrat course for those years as well. These mentors and many more have seen my growth and given me the space to learn.
For me, the most incredible thing that CBL has given me is the fearless ability to take on any project. The world we live in is not perfect, but it is not permanently broken either. There is always room for improvement and what the world needs is people who have the ideas and the willingness to work hard and make it happen.
Jack Chaffee ’20: I would say that my greatest learning from being a CBL Intern is the importance of building relationships that are founded in mutuality and reciprocity when fostering community within Worcester and Holy Cross. CBL provided me with some of the most informative and transformative experiences of my four years here at Holy Cross, and I am incredibly grateful for the lessons I learned along the way, especially about how we engage with one another. During my time as a CBL intern I grew more confident in my abilities to be a leader and peer, while also gaining a much deeper understanding of systematic issues we face as a society. After being an intern for three years, I feel much more confident in advocating for ideas or concepts I believe in, many of which have been formed by experiential learning opportunities such as CBL. Being a member of the intern cohort, and receiving mentorship from the Directors of the Donelan Office, have strongly encouraged me to pursue what I am passionate about. The support I have felt from the CBL Office was important in my discernment of post graduate plans, and I will take this lesson of unwaveringly pursuing my passions with me as I prepare to leave Holy Cross and become an assistant in L’Arche Jacksonville.
Katie Kelsh ’20: The time I have been fortunate enough to spend within the Community-Based Learning community at Holy Cross has taught me many lessons. I have learned how to make delicious empanadas with the Worcester Public School Transition Program and the best strategies to painting French nails from Wanda at Training Resources of America. However, above all, this time has revealed to me the true value of asking a question. I have learned that it is from a simple question, such as “How was your weekend?” that meaningful and lasting relationships can begin. I could not be more grateful for these relationships I have been able to form on and off the Hill through CBL, as they have greatly enriched my Holy Cross experience. Ending my time with the CBL office is one of the hardest parts of leaving Holy Cross, but as I move to my next steps beyond HC, I will carry with me all those I have met through CBL and hope to continue building community, one question at a time.
Will McAvoy ’20: From my time as a CBL Intern, I had the opportunity to learn from my peers and realize that we all have different interpretations of the world around us. I realized this during countless reflection sessions, at dialogue sessions, during the NPCC, during intern meetings, etc. From tutoring children to sitting with the elderly, students would have different experiences between sites. Students also interpreted their experiences differently at the same site. I quickly realized in my first year Montserrat with Professor Ginny Ryan that there was no “typical experience” with CBL. Throughout the years, hearing different students explain their experiences made me grasp the course material in a different way. It was a paradigm shift. To me, that is what makes CBL so powerful; it allows all of us to view our experience in and out of the classroom in a different way, thus allowing us to have a greater learning experience that leaves a meaningful impact on each of us.
I have also learned to embrace silence. This has happened in two places. The first is bedside at the St. Mary Center. I have learned from professors that sometimes the power of being present is simply enough for a resident. Maybe the resident is tired and would rather rest by watching a show with you instead of conversing. Similarly, in small group reflections, I have learned that silence can be a powerful moment for reflection that can allow not only you, but those around you, to reflect on their experiences. From this, I have learned that moments of silence do not need to be filled. Rather, they should be embraced.
Having the experience of CBL has shown me that everyone around me has their own personal experiences that they bring to the table. What I feel in a certain time is rarely the same as someone around me, and that is something that we all need to take into account. Sitting bedside at the St. Mary Center reminds me of my grandmother who passed at a hospice center several years ago. Another student at HC may not have had that experience and would benefit from hearing my story. Similarly, hearing perspectives from others that I personally have not experienced will allow me to learn. I also learned that everyone has their own internal and external struggles that are rarely visible. Having these different lived experiences allows us to be a stronger group. These different personal experiences need to be welcomed and cherished as they will allow us all to learn more from one another.
Fatima Oseida ’20: Being a CBL intern was one of my favorite roles on campus. When I first came to Holy Cross, I did not know much about social justice or what it actually meant. While I was still finding myself, the opportunity of becoming an intern came across, so I applied and gratefully got the position. Ever since then, every day has been a learning experience. Not only did I learn more about social justice, but I also learned about its importance in our community, not only at Holy Cross, but in Worcester. More importantly, being a CBL intern gave me a new perspective on the Jesuit principle “men and women for and with others”, because being an intern is not just volunteering at a local organization and getting some work done. To me, it means to immerse myself in the community and to learn from my own experiences. Now that I am graduating, I came to realize that, through the program, I learned what my true passions are, and that is something that I will be forever grateful for.
Christian Realbuto ’20: The person I am now is completely different from who I was when I first entered Holy Cross – and a significant part of that is because of my experience with CBL and the Donelan Office. CBL introduced me to the strong, vibrant communities that make up the city of Worcester, and allowed me to meet incredible public servants who are committed to their nonprofit agencies that add to the city’s strength and history. CBL has also given me stories of love, along with tremendous sadness. Pain, along with tremendous growth. At the core of this learning has been the incredible power of presence. That’s what we do every week at CBL. We show up. We show up to our sites and share in that vulnerable space, that, by the end of the semester, is no longer just your “CBL site,” but the place where your new friends are, and the place that’s taken a piece of your heart. This learning would be incomplete without cultivating my sense of gratitude. Gratitude for the CBL students who came before me, and paved the way for me to participate in the power of presence. Gratitude for the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program for welcoming me into their community for the past 4 years. And also, gratitude for Isabelle and Michelle – whose commitment to the Donelan Office strengthens our relationship and partnership with Worcester each year.
Being a CBL intern has expanded my understanding of empathy to include different perspectives and contexts. As I learned through CBL, communities — and the people that make them up — do not have “a single story.” In this fashion, service demands that we look beyond “a single story,” and develop intentional relationships that expand upon a person’s whole self.
As I look to make my next steps after Holy Cross, I keep coming back to David Brooks’ opinion piece, “A Nation of Weavers.” “Weavers,” according to Mr. Brooks, “share an ethos that puts relationship over self” and exhibit “radical mutuality” in their relationships to one another. I believe this sentiment encompasses CBL and our community partners. CBL cultivates Weavers – people who recognize the importance of reciprocity and mutually in relationships with one another. CBL teaches that there is no “us” and “them” – there is only us.
Thank you, to the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning any my fellow CBL interns for all the wonderful memories and experiences I was lucky enough to share in.
Delaney Wells ’20: As I reflect back on my various involvements and endeavors throughout my four years at Holy Cross, I can say wholeheartedly that Community-Based Learning has had the greatest influence on the journey of finding who I am at my core, deeply shaping my mind and heart. The relationships I have built at the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program, among other community partners, within the intern community, and in reflection sessions have prompted me to develop a more critical consciousness about our world, our structures, and the way that I exist within them. I am leaving Holy Cross with a personal responsibility to those forgotten and disadvantaged by normative economic and political structures on local and global levels. Through involvement in the Donelan Office I have come to recognize the importance of the touch of the heart in relationships formed through CBL. This significant touch allows us to form meaningful and deep connections with one another which illuminate truths about ourselves and the world around us. I now value the touch of the heart in all relationships and actions I partake in, motivating me to work for justice and equality. I am leaving Holy Cross with the lessons, conversations, and moments through my involvement with community-based learning at the center of who I am, fueling my drive to continue to seek justice.