“Reflecting on my time as a CBL Intern” – Paige Cohen ’21

I’m sitting down to write this blog post right before I head out to Fitton Field for the 2021 Baccalaureate Mass. This Mass strikes me as the perfect bookend to my Holy Cross — and especially Community-Based Learning (CBL) — experience. I began my time at Holy Cross at another Mass on Fitton Field, all the way back in 2017. I remember my parents sitting next to me crying, being surrounded by hundreds of unknown faces, and being a little overwhelmed by all the new that was around me. But the rhythm of the Mass gave me a sense of comfort, and the homily’s focus on Jesuit spirituality gave me my first glimpse into the foundation in service, prayer, and reflection that my Holy Cross education would have.

Since that Mass of the Holy Spirit, CBL has been a constant reminder of that same foundation throughout my time at Holy Cross. My first CBL experience came in my first-year Montserrat course, called “Death and Society”. All of us trained as hospice volunteers, visiting for a couple hours each week with nursing home residents around Worcester, as part of their hospice care team. It was intimidating and hard at times to walk into the room of a complete stranger, but as I met with different residents throughout the year, I began to learn their stories and to look forward to my times with them.

Finding this Montserrat CBL experience so powerful, I applied to be a CBL intern for my sophomore year. I had so looked up to the two CBL interns who had visited my Montserrat to lead reflection sessions — Jerome Siangco‘19 and Will McAvoy ‘20 — and hoped to pass on the gift of CBL to new students by becoming a CBL intern myself.

I count my sophomore year as my most difficult at Holy Cross, as I struggled to get my bearings and sometimes felt isolated. But during that sophomore year, through CBL, I also had the privilege of visiting and forming a close relationship with a hospice resident who treated me as one of his own grandchildren. I would bring him my political science papers, listen as he told stories about his time in the military, and got to meet his family. We happened to have the same birthday and got to go to his nursing home’s birthday celebration together. I never would have met this man if it hadn’t been for CBL, but his constant joy during our visits together were a bright spot in a year full of challenging growth for me.

Junior year, during the fall, I continued to work as a CBL intern, planning dialogue sessions, leading reflections, and visiting with hospice residents. I felt much more settled than I had during sophomore year and felt that I was hitting my stride. But then, just a few days before I was due back on campus for the spring semester, I was injured in the Women’s Rowing team van accident. Although of course the accident is a painful memory, I will always remember the love that the CBL community showed me during that time. I was welcomed back on campus by the van drivers whom I had come to know in checking out Holy Cross vans for weekly visits. I received letters from hospice residents’ families who had heard what happened. And the Donelan Office staff and my fellow interns sent me a beautiful care package in the mail. I felt so loved and cared for in those days, as I hope all who encounter the Donelan Office feel.

Senior year has been different, of course. COVID has made it difficult to continue volunteering in hospice and made it more challenging to fully engage with other CBL students (though I am still always impressed by the insights that come out of Zoom CBL reflection sessions!). I have really, really missed my hospice visits in this past year, and this underscores for me that, as I step forward into post-graduate life, I need to prioritize integrating service into my routine. CBL has introduced me to new people, allowed me to hear the powerful reflections of so many Holy Cross students, and encouraged me to live a life of service after graduation. I will always be grateful for my time with the Donelan Office and for the chance to serve as a CBL intern.

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