Understanding the “Two Feet” of Service and Social Justice in my Hometown and Ascentria  – Dora Calva ’22

As mentioned in my Community-Based Learning (CBL) newsletter highlight, I volunteered with my high school friends to start this organization called Brick City Aid. The organization came to be because COVID-19 has dramatically changed everyone’s lives, particularly vulnerable people such as the homeless community have been more affected. My friends and I started by having zoom meetings to discuss how to turn this small idea into an organization. We all knew we were passionate about social justice issues that impacted our hometown, Newark, NJ. Once we had all of our ideas organized, it was time to raise awareness through social media. We even created a GofundMe account, which was a success for the first of our many distributions.

Engaging in service while also tackling the social justice issues reminded me of Holy Cross’s Jesuit values. The phrase “for and with others” has been something I have gotten to know more at a deeper level. Even though I have volunteered at food banks and clothing drives since high school, since my Montserrat class with Professor Ryan, Exploring Differences, I finally began to understand the true meaning of the “for and with others.” I have learned that there are two components in Community-Based Learning that should always go hand-in-hand. One is service by volunteering at your site. We continuously explore service as part of the surface level that many volunteers end up doing. Service is great, don’t get me wrong, but service should not be the only goal you look forward to attending your CBL site. The second component is understanding the social justice issues at hand. Service and social justice issues should be the “two feet” you walk with and keep your balance. I say this because thinking about social justice leads you to begin to question why CBL is needed in the first place. 

This semester, I volunteer at Ascentria Unaccompanied Refugees Minors Program (URMP) through being a CBL Intern.The opportunity to be able to be part of the Worcester community even virtually is a blessing, although tutoring students through Zoom has not been the easiest. I have witnessed firsthand the difficulty it is to connect on the phone rather than a computer. Sometimes, when it comes time for Ascentria students to connect to their wifi, it is unstable to the point where you can’t hear their voices. Even managing the zoom features in English was troublesome at first, as many of them speak Spanish. I can connect with the Ascentria students’ technology experiences because starting of this semester was a troublesome adjustment as the week before school, I had just been in an accident with my friend. For the following days, my mother and sister kept me a priority; however, we all knew I had to leave again because the home environment was not suitable to focus on any assignments. As I moved to Buffalo, NY, I soon realized that I left my computer in my house’s front porch chair. The next two weeks were challenging as I needed to use my phone to join zoom for my classes and meetings. Even submitting homework was limited as there were not that many options accessible through my mobile device. As soon as my computer arrived, I felt relieved that I could finally get more work done. 

 Despite my own challenges and the challenges Ascentria students face, I have noticed the eagerness and willingness of both Ascentria and Holy Cross students to do their part. I always look forward to spending the afternoon with a student and trying my best to get through most of the homework via the share my screen option on zoom. Through my CBL experience, I have gotten to know students I have not met previously, which has also been fulfilling because learning about who they are is something you can’t exchange time with money. 

Returning to the “two feet” mentioned above, I have reflected that Ascentria students and others who are trying to do well in their studies sometimes do not have all the available resources at their fingertips. Knowing this, I want to make a difference by applying for the Marshall Memorial Fund in the future through the Donalen Office.

AVID/Holy Cross College Readiness Virtual Panels – Guest Blogger, Community Partner, Janet Mathieu

Guest blogger, community partner, Janet Mathieu (Community Resource and AVID Specialist) blogs about a recent virtual partnership between AVID in WPS and Holy Cross students.


The College of the Holy Cross and Worcester Public Schools AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) have partnered since 2009.  It is a positive collaborative relationship involving recruitment of Holy Cross students to lead collaborative study groups (AVID tutorials) in the AVID classrooms. The Donelan Office at Holy Cross supplies us with numerous CBL students who adeptly participate in AVID, as AVID trained tutors. The AVID tutors provide direct instructional support to students with the assistance of the AVID Elective teacher using an inquiry process and serving as role models.

AVID’s goal is to share the tools with our students to inspire academic effort and growth, celebrate achievement, and provide exposure to college enriching opportunities. 

Realizing our constraints with distance learning due to COVID-19, who else would we turn to but the Community Based Learning at the College of the Holy Cross. To hear firsthand about the college experience from college students themselves makes the college experience real and attainable. Hence, we collaborated with the Donelan Office and quickly formulated the Holy Cross/AVID college student panel.  

Five students, Julianne Esteves ’22, Kathryn Hauver ’22, Sly Dwyer ’21, Julianna Lopez-Picardi ’21, and Ronald Pena ’21 shared what it was like to transition from middle school through high school and onto college.  Each college student had a different journey which was insightful and enriching for our middle school students to envision their own trajectory to college.  

The virtual panel discussion was a grand success!  Elizabeth Pirani, AVID teacher exclaimed, “It was just the kind of experience that the students needed… not only for the exposure to college and career but the ‘socialization’ of the experience made such a positive impact on them.  Students at this time, work only in their designated groups and besides their teachers, they see no one else through the course of the day. They don’t ‘see’ their friends and are not able to make new ones, they don’t have a locker, they don’t go to the lunchroom, they are probably doing  ‘physical education’ in front of the computer screen.” So in some small ways, Ms. Pirani feels the interactive panel helped to fill that void.

The panelists shared a multitude of tips:

      • Plan a challenging course schedule.
      • Keep records of classes and grades.
      • Work on time management.
      • Persevere no matter what.
      • Gather information on various colleges, majors and careers. 

Outside of academics the college students talked about the importance of doing what makes you happy.  Extracurricular activities that make them who they are included working at a zoo, taking a hospice internship, being a blogger about ice cream, and working at UMass Medical. 

A highlight of particular interest to the AVID students was when Sly talked about receiving an “F” on one of his first papers, in freshman year. His professor asked that he come to see her. That was a turning point for him. Sly was upset because he worked very hard on the paper, he felt unprepared for the workload and he didn’t know how to move forward.  He said his professor wanted him to succeed and assisted him every step of the way.  He said the encouragement, support and belief in him succeeding is what made all the difference in moving forward.  He is currently studying Pre-Med.

AVID is most grateful to Sly, Kathryn, Julianna, Julianne and Ronald for sharing what the responsibilities of college entails, how to persevere and ask for help, the importance to pursue your happiness and that college is within their grasp!

Resilience in the Face of Dispersion – Jack Slania ’21

I began the process of joining the CBL intern team at one of the most uncertain points in my four years at Holy Cross. It was March 2020, and I had just returned home from my study abroad program in Florence, Italy after only 8 weeks, devastated by the termination of an experience that I had put so much thought and energy into. Yet, what was even more devastating than my last walk through the city or my last gelato were the people I left behind and the impending tragedy the country was about to go through with the COVID-19 pandemic. There was my host family, a younger couple and their two adorable girls, Mina and Frida. There were teachers and acquaintances. And among the hardest goodbyes was to the non-profit I worked with for much of my time in the city, named Gli Anelli Mancanti or “The Missing Rings” in English. The organization serves the immigrant and refugee community in Florence by providing a variety of essential services, such as legal aid, assistance with immigration documents, and most prominently, lessons in many different world languages. My time teaching advanced English there (albeit short) was among the most defining experiences of my time abroad and at Holy Cross. 

Therefore, when I returned and had the opportunity to apply for the CBL intern program, I went into the process keeping in mind the amazing engagement experience I had just left behind in Florence. It was difficult to anticipate what CBL would look like on the Hill this semester, but to become further involved with the program after the experience I had in Florence was something I was quite excited about. 

It was not long after that things in our country and world started to turn pretty grim. Back in Florence and the rest of Italy, the pandemic ravaged the country and its people, leaving a normally warm and vibrant society locked-up and in fear. Soon after, we here in the United States began experiencing our own shocking devastation with the pandemic, something that we sadly don’t seem to have overcome seven months later. Even today when looking at shuttered businesses, children falling behind during remote learning, or entire generations of family members no longer in our lives, it’s difficult to see anything going on in our nation without noticing millions of people suffering. And when trapped at home for the safety of ourselves and others, it can feel incredibly overwhelming and frustrating that we cannot be out in our communities helping those in need. 

This is precisely how I felt in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, when the racial injustice that had been so incredibly exacerbated by the pandemic came face-to-face with a horrifying display of police brutality on an innocent Black man. I wanted more than anything to channel my energy into tangible action, but again, it is so hard to make the decision between active involvement in our communities and the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones. 

With the decision to go entirely remote this semester, I, like many of our classmates, was incredibly worried about what this might mean for our campus community and student body. My time serving and engaging with our community partners in Worcester has left me with a profound appreciation for the city. I do not believe that I’d be anywhere near the same student or individual if it weren’t for the opportunities I’ve had to get off of the Hill and into the city and community. It is precisely this missing piece of our remote semester that brought me the most anxiety as we began to plan for CBL. Moreover, with this being without a doubt the most crucial moment for those in need during my four years at Holy Cross, I was concerned about the ability of our student body to assist our community partners during this time.

I am happy to say two months into this semester that the CBL program has reignited a drive for justice and service in me that was severely lacking over the much of the spring and summer. This started with the spectacular Civitas Community Engagement and Leadership Institute, a multi-week program at the end of the summer that gave me the opportunity to lead a group of classmates in discussing and learning about the most pressing social justice issues of our current moment. Furthermore, the program gave us the resources to connect with remote engagement opportunities, bringing a typical community service component into the remote semesters of many of our students. I am currently executing this myself by serving in my CBL intern role as co-coordinator of an Italian language circle through the Worcester Public Library. This has given myself and other Italian language students the opportunity to meet and connect virtually with Italian-speaking members of the community. Likewise, I am currently interning with the United Way of Central Massachusetts, serving both remotely and in-person to execute the crucial community service projects they have planned this fall. Most recently, I have begun a second session of leading a Civitas group, this time meeting weekly with Montserrat students to discuss social justice and engagement in our campus community. Most of all, the time spent connecting with one another to discuss the reality of our current situation has provided me with more peace of mind in the face of dispersion. With so many students eager to learn more about social justice and engagement even while we are not all in the same setting has left me incredibly hopeful that a community like Holy Cross that thrives on the mission of being “men and women for and with others” can survive a pandemic and dispersion. 

Most of all, the energy I have seen around civic engagement, one of the core tenets of Civitas, has provided me with the greatest source of hope during this semester. During my own time volunteering and working on the campaign trail this summer and fall, I have seen an unprecedented amount of involvement by members of our generation to get involved with politics, many for the first time in their lives. It is incredible to see so many of our classmates educating themselves on voting, not just for the president but for down-ballot candidates and initiatives. If there is one thing that has acted as my greatest source of resilience in the face of dispersion, it is the knowledge that we as Holy Cross students will not be complicit in the social ills highlighted this summer. We will continue to work together to make the world a better and more equal place for all.