“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. 

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