“Woodland Academy and Building Relationships: Connecting Life Experiences”- Anna Kerns ’26

As I am finishing up my first year as a CBL Intern and as we begin welcoming new Interns to the cohort, I have been more active in my reflections on my CBL experiences. Just two years ago, I enrolled in a Montserrat course with a Community-Based Learning component, intrigued to learn more. I began the class, expecting a few class-trips into Worcester, some guest speakers, and services similar to those I participated in during high school.

When Professor Jenkins explained the CBL component to my class of first-year students, invited us to the enrollment session, and took us through orientation, I became much more curious. Truthfully, none of it seemed new to me. I had previous experiences volunteering, and assumed it would not be different to those. Entering my first year of College, I was very confident in my identity. I knew what I came to Holy Cross to study, I knew exactly what I planned on accomplishing, and I felt that I knew exactly how to do it. The CBL component, in my mind, would be another activity that I engaged in during my time. 

Little did I know that this was not the case. My academic interests shifted drastically, my priorities changed, and I often found myself feeling lost, stranded, and uncertain. The one consistency was the time I spent weekly at Woodland Academy. I always knew that regardless of what my plan for my future career was developing into, what I was going to do during the upcoming summer, and what my next four years would be like, there would be a classroom of Kindergarteners waiting for me, eager to tell me about their week. I began to look forward to my two hours in Worcester every Friday morning, and I got to know each of these students personally. I could identify when they were feeling stressed, overwhelmed, excited, nervous, or scared without them telling me. I knew how to help them perfect their counting, adding/subtracting, and multiplying skills without losing their interest or pushing them too hard. I found it so inspiring to be a leader in this environment because, for much of my day-to-day life, I was searching for my own guidance- for grounding in my own emotions, assistance in my own academic pursuits, and identifying my own emotions. One specific experience that has stuck with me, was when a new student joined our class. The other students, excited to get to know her, were shocked when she met them with tension, irritation, and unfriendliness. The cheerful classroom environment was disrupted as teachers and administrators attempted to understand this new student’s behavior, and she responded with cursing, screaming, and being mean to the other students. 

During a group reading time, all the students were sitting on the carpet and listening to a teacher read them a book. This new student, talking and interrupting the teacher, was told to sit at her desk, away from the other students. Angrily, she obeyed, and sat alone at her desk. In an attempt to calm her down, I started asking her questions and getting to know her. From this five minute interaction, I learned that she had just moved to Worcester from a shelter in Grafton, and she had an older brother, and her Mom was expecting a baby soon. She was nervous about starting over in a new town, and she seemed very hesitant on what changes a new sibling would bring. I could identify that, just like me, she needed some guidance. Her behavior was a reaction to the uncertainty that she was feeling about the future, which I recognized very easily, as I often felt this uncertainty myself. 

From this interaction, I realized how valuable my time at Woodland had been. My experience was greatly beneficial to my own life, in that it brought new perspectives and it helped me identify new skills in leadership, guidance, and emotional support, as I was simultaneously supporting these students, and helping them gain the confidence they needed to take control of their futures. As I entered the CBL Intern cohort, and explored new community partners, I kept this mindset and the lessons I learned from these experiences close. I am looking forward to returning to campus in the Spring, and continuing to grow these relationships.

“Rebuilding Our Partnership with WPS Transition Program”- Catherine Cannamela ’24

In the past three years, I’ve had the pleasure to volunteer with young adults with intellectual disabilities in the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program as a CBL Intern. After taking a Montserrat course on exploring difference and disability theology, it was so powerful to be able to bridge differences with the Transition students and practice building relationships with them in person. This semester, I’ve been taking a course called Seeking Justice, and I’m working on a CBL project with my partner, Meghan Stravin, to create an orientation video for future WPS Transition volunteers. Holy Cross and WPS Transition are rebuilding our partnership since the pandemic and it would be helpful for our CBL office to explain the unique schedule and style of our partnership to volunteers in efforts to better our communication and create a shared understanding of our goals. My fellow WPS Transition Coordinator interns, Assistant Director of the Donelan Office, Kathryn Hauver, and I have been focusing on revamping our schedule as WPS Transition comes to campus every Monday by planning our activities based on different themes and areas of Holy Cross. So far, we’ve done a scavenger hunt in the Science building, practiced handshakes and interview skills while visiting the Center for Career Development, practiced yoga and made self-care goodie bags in Ciampi, visited the green house and painted pots for planting, and more! All the while, I’ve been taking video footage of our activities and interviewing Holy Cross volunteers, CBL Interns and Donelan Office staff, and WPS teachers including our main partner, Kim, to contribute to our orientation video. I’ve also been filming some spotlights on certain WPS students who are allowed to be in media, in which they demonstrate their unique communication styles as they engage in activities, and my talented partner Meghan has put the whole video together! It’s been a very powerful experience to work on a project that implements justice, educates others about ableism, and improves our partnership in the future. 

In my project, I am particularly passionate about conveying the dangers of toxic charity and emphasizing engaging in service with the WPS Transition Program that is with them and is mutually beneficial.  I am especially invested in making sure that WPS students are not painted in the video as people to be pitied, which is often an ableist assumption, and that they are illustrated with the full humanity that they embody. I hope to show that as CBL volunteers, we are not there to do anything for the WPS students, but are rather there to accompany and build friendships while promoting their independence and gifts. Throughout the journey of making this video, I’ve strived to continue working on the balance of paying attention to the people and demands in front of me as a Coordinator while keeping a wider perspective of social change and hope. I’ve especially learned the importance of being flexible, as rarely anything we plan with WPS Transition goes perfectly, but each work we learn from our mistakes, gain patience, and grow by leaning on each other for support. Along these lines, I’ve learned how essential it is to listen to our partner’s needs and make changes as we go, and the positive feedback we’ve received tells me that we are headed in the right direction of rebuilding our programming to be more beneficial to WPS and Holy Cross. As a senior whose time with CBL is ending, I’m hoping to pave the way for our partnership to thrive in the future, since I am now working towards organizing and mentoring other volunteers and planning programming. It’s been especially exciting to talk with Kim about potentially organizing an expansion of our partnership, since she hopes for WPS to start coming to campus for two days a week next year! 

CBL with WPS Transition has had a profound impact on the person I am. Primarily, the relationships I’ve formed with WPS students and staff have been so fundamental to my Holy Cross experience, and these friendships have grown to become so meaningful after spending so much time together. It’s also made me so much more aware of my own ableist biases and ableism on campus, as we are constantly dealing with physical accessibility challenges and social judgment from surrounding people. This year, I’ve been really passionate about implementing and improving this partnership to increase visibility of people with disabilities on our dominantly able-bodied campus and advocate for better physical accessibility. Ultimately, my time with CBL has affirmed that I enjoy spending my time bridging differences and forming connections with people with disabilities, and I’m happy to continue this journey through sharing life with adults with intellectual disabilities at L’Arche after graduation before pursuing a degree in occupational therapy.