Being introduced to Community-Based Learning when I was a first-year student became one of my greatest experiences at Holy Cross. My Montserrat, Exploring Differences with Prof. Ryan first introduced me to CBL. Soon enough, I began my journey with Ascentria Unaccompanied Refugees Minors Program. It has now been four years since I started tutoring at Ascentria and three years as a CBL intern with one of my roles as Ascentria’s program coordinator. Each semester, I have gotten to know a different set of students eager to volunteer and participate. From previous years, I have gotten the chance to tutor in person and develop a genuine relationship with some of the students.
Volunteering at Ascentria has been a rollercoaster with part of my experience over Zoom. At first, it was difficult to adjust to tutoring the students online and even getting the technical aspects of Zoom, however, nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy. Through my CBL office hours with Isabelle Jenkins, I was able to converse and reflect with her on the challenges over Zoom. Zoom impeded engagement with the students because there were times that the internet would cut off or their audio would not work in the middle of tutoring. I was able to overcome some challenges by reminding them to log out and log back in. If they were able to log back in, I would stay overtime to ensure the student was having as much of the tutoring experience. I tried to connect my Zoom college experiences with the students and express understanding for how hard it must be to be remote. Through this volunteering experience over Zoom, I gained patience. I have been able to work through the difficulties and become a better mentor for the Holy Cross students. I have also reflected on why my role is needed in the first place. I began to wonder why our educational system is failing my Ascentria students, who are exceptionally intelligent and eager to learn, however, depriving them from the opportunity to grow because of their linguistic status. Ascentria is one of the community partners that Holy Cross has that brings awareness to some of the social justice issues occurring in Worcester, MA.
Engaging my time and energy at Ascentria was a rewarding experience for me as I was able to learn about the city of Worcester and have a community at Holy Cross. The Donalen Office has been a safe place for me, and I am so grateful for having Isabelle and Mattie. I am also grateful to have gotten the opportunity to know the Holy Cross and Ascentria students, as well as the staff at Ascentria. As a first-generation student with an immigrant background, I see my Latinx role interconnecting with my future career. Being an educated Latinx and a voice for those whose voices are not heard or listened to, it is our duty and responsibility to do everything we can to help students with long-term social justice issues find solutions that are not only on a community level but also on a national level.
As the semester comes to an end, the Holy Cross atmosphere is filled with many things. A predominant one is stress for finals and upcoming assignments. But I am a firm believer that there’s beauty and joy in the midst of our student chaos. I found that joy as a freshman when my Social Ethics class introduced me to CBL. When I first came into Holy Cross, I was afraid I wouldn’t connect with my community and who I am; little did I know! I had the fortunate opportunity to volunteer at the Marie Anne Center and work with English Learners. I met people from all over Latin America, mainly from Brazil, who aspired to become fluent in English to achieve the dreams they shared with us.. But beyond the learning portion, it was a moment to reflect and share about who we are and where we come from. We used to always go back to food as one of our main topics of conversation. The students shared about the delicious dishes they have at home and family gatherings. I then understood the deep meaning of our roots and how we can always go back to something as a reminder of our identity, whether that be food, music, language, etc. CBL allowed me to return to a part of mine. Being with the students felt like we were creating our sense of community, a family.
Almost two years and a pandemic later, I built upon that same sense of community through CBL. This year I am working with the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program twice a week. Our students come from a variety of different backgrounds, from Worcester to the Dominican Republic. While WPS might be a different site from my previous one, there are some essential similarities. For instance, we had an activity led by Professors from the Spanish department to talk about our culture. Some students brought their Puerto Rican flag and others an ingredient from their favorite dish. Other days, students pick songs by their favorite artists and teach us how to dance. Just like at the Marie Anne Center, we continue to learn about each other by sharing our roots and how they have shaped us.
So, what does my Holy Cross atmosphere look like? Certainly stress and nervousness for finals, but it is filled with immeasurable joy. I have had the privilege of learning about the lives of students from Marie Anne Center and WPS. But as I said, this has been different from the usual way we learn in the classroom. Our identities have shined through all of our conversations and activities. I also have to say that gratitude fuels my atmosphere. After COVID, I wasn’t sure what college and life would be like, and I admit that I was afraid about how different CBL would be this time. Although life is not back to normal, I am endlessly grateful that I had the opportunity to do it again, to regain what I thought was a lost sense of community.
This semester, I officially began my junior year of college. Even just typing that is scary for me. I have no idea how I suddenly have less than two years to be a student. Though I’ve loved this year so far, the fact that I am now an upperclassman has made me appreciate every moment I have here a little more. Holy Cross helps me to seek discomfort and grow as a person every single day. However, I always worried that once I left Holy Cross, such opportunities for growth wouldn’t be possible anymore.
On December 1st, I had the chance to participate in a Community-Based Learning Dialogue Session called “Where Do We Go From Here? Living a Life of Service and Justice.” At the session, we discussed careers focused on service and justice with three alumni: Theresa Becchi (‘10), the Associate Director at Counterpart International, Jack Chaffee (‘20), an Assistant at L’Arche Jacksonville, and Paulina Martin (‘21), an AmeriCorps Volunteer at Maggie’s Place. It was so interesting to hear about their occupational journeys and perspectives on their time at Holy Cross.
It’s hard to pick out just a few things that struck me about the session. However, each speaker had so many interesting things to say, and important takeaways they wanted the students to have. Paulina talked about how her year of service has taught her to measure productivity in a more meaningful, qualitative way, and implored students to trust where their gut “tugs” them in navigating life post college. Jack Chaffee also emphasized the idea of trusting your gut, and discussed how engagement with his community was what ultimately gave him clarity on what he wanted to do with his life. Theresa spoke about the benefits of seeking discomfort and being persistent in finding your place. Ultimately, I walked away from this dialogue session still appreciating the fact that I’m a Holy Cross student, but also feeling more optimistic about the days when I’m not anymore. Because of this dialogue session, I understand that as long as I cherish connection with others, step outside of my comfort zone and trust myself and my abilities, I will be able to find meaning and fulfillment in whatever career I choose to pursue.
I was first introduced to CBL by Professor Cohen. She had emailed me about applying because she thought that it would be something I like. At that time I didn’t have a clear image of what CBL was, because, although my Jan term course with Professor Cohen was a CBL course, I never got to go volunteer somewhere as I took the course online. As I did more research I fell in love with the CBL program because it gives students the opportunity to connect and form relationships with the people of Worcester. Being here for only my first semester and then being sent home resulted in a loss of time for me to learn about Worcester, which I had always hoped to do. At that moment after being on the CBL website for an hour I decided I had to apply. The application process was very nerve-wracking for me because I really wanted this position. And thankfully I did get the position. I remember opening the decision letter and being so happy because I would be able to give back to the community while also learning more about Worcester.
My first semester as a CBL intern has been wonderful. I have been able to go to downtown Worcester and see amazing art by many different artists, talk to other students about CBL, and also facilitate reflection on what volunteering means. As a CBL intern, I am one of the leaders for Ascentria tutoring and also one of the CBL interns helping in the preparation of the Non-Profit Careers Conference. Being a tutor for Ascentria has been a very rewarding experience. At the moment tutoring is still done through Zoom but I have been able to learn what are the best ways to help Ascentria students. Although at first, it was a challenge teaching through Zoom, I am very grateful because I get to help students learn English, something that I have been doing most of my life with helping my parents learn English at home. This week will be our last day tutoring for the semester and I would like to say that I am very thankful for Dora, the other CBL leader at Ascentria, the Holy Cross tutors, and the students from Ascentria for making this a very insightful experience. As I wrap up on tutoring with Ascentria I, along with the other CBL interns, have started to prepare for the Non-Profit Careers Conference and I can’t wait to meet other students who are also interested in the Non-Profit sector.