A Senior’s Words of Gratitude to Our Community Partners

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address an entire room full of the people who help make Community-Based Learning a viable program for students at Holy Cross.  I wrote this speech, which I’ve included below, not only to thank our community partners for the work they do, but to remind them of how this work contributes to our academic and personal growth.

If my four years here have taught me anything, it’s that college isn’t just about what you learn.  It’s about the person you become through your learning.

In that respect, CBL has been an invaluable aspect of my experience here at Holy Cross, contributing to both my academic and personal growth. Before I arrived at Holy Cross, social justice and community service were things I’d never really considered.

But now, as a graduating senior, social justice and community service have become integral to my identity as a student and as a citizen. Going out into the community and experiencing both the frustrations and the successes of treating social problems awakened in me a social consciousness developed otherwise.

Being able to forge a relationship with the Worcester community has shaped my college experience into one I’m proud of and excited by. Many Holy Cross students neglect to explore Worcester and claim it as their community. We tend to get wrapped up in the monotony of campus culture so that even when we do engage in community service, we do so with a level of distance.

Our objective is not to get to know the community and make its problems our own; our objective is to become more “well-rounded” by adding yet another item to our collection of commitments and responsibilities. We approach service with romanticized hopes of intimately touching the lives of those we (often condescendingly) deem to be “less-fortunate” than we are.

I’ll be the first to admit I initially became involved in service at Holy Cross for that very reason. It wasn’t until I unwittingly enrolled in a CBL course that the paradigm of service shifted for me. When I found out my Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course would require me to go out into Worcester and try to determine how our course objectives played out in the real world, I was skeptical.

But as the semester progressed, I came to see the pedagogical value of observing theory in practice. For me, engaging in the community didn’t just illustrate the social problems and structural inequalities discussed in our course readings; engaging in the community broke down the “us/them” boundary many of my peers carefully maintain between ourselves and the Worcester community. Immersing myself in the community made theoretical problems and inequalities personal imperatives.

Through the relationship I’ve grown with the Worcester community, I’ve come to see Worcester not as a place I inhabit between vacations but as my home. I’ve come to see broader social problems as personal calls to action. I’ve come to see that theory and practice are never mutually exclusive things.

In the same way, I’ve learned that academic and personal growth often develop in positive feedback loops. As my academic objectives pushed me into the community, the community’s willingness not only to receive me but to teach me changed my personal perspective on social justice and community engagement. This new perspective then inspired a sense of urgency in my academic pursuits that continues to motivate me in questioning the ways inequality is constructed in our society.

So, if I can speak for my fellow Community-Based Learning students and Interns, on behalf of all of us, I’d like to thank the community partners who warmly and generously open up their doors for us. Thank you for taking the time to engage with us in such deep and inspiring ways. The impact you have on our lives stretches far beyond the four-year window of our time here at Holy Cross.

Thank you.


–Rachel E. Greenberg, ’15

Preparing for the Future

Do you want a job out of college? I sure do. If, like me, you want a job, here is my recommendation: DO MORE COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT WORK!!

So you think I’m crazy? I get it. You should really be studying marketing or finance in some dark, dreary corner of the library in your free time so you can nail all those technical questions in an interview then go make bank over the summer. Not quite…

Step into the shoes of a recruiter for a second. You get a ton of applicants every day and your job is to find diverse thinkers who can add value to your company. 95% of the applications you receive probably have the same story: I am a *something career-oriented* major who spends my free time doing *something career-oriented*. How boring.

Then you come across someone who actually does something different. Instead of spending their time pursuing personal gain, they spend time in the community pursuing social change. So what are the takeaways?

  1. This person is a team player. This candidate obviously cares more about the greater good and isn’t afraid to take the path less traveled by.
  2. I have a problem-solver here. Our candidate sees a social problem and actively pursues its resolution. Companies can always use problem solvers.
  3. The candidate applies their education outside of the classroom. The difficulties of community engagement cause people to ADAPT, APPLY THEIR CLASSROOM LESSONS, AND OVERCOME CHALLENGES. If we get one thing out of college, we should learn HOW TO THINK. Anybody can learn how to memorize. I would rather hire a thinker.

While personal gain is NOT the reason to pursue community engagement, I am quite tired of hearing people say that they do not have time for service because of the competitive job market. I am not saying you shouldn’t study for technical interview questions and maintain a job focus, but never let the fear of the future get in the way of giving back.

Whether they know it or not, all college students have been given the incredible gift of education and most people around the world would give anything to be in their position. So pay it back and, BONUS, you might just get a sweet job out of college because of it.


–Jacob Medina, ’16

Non-Profit Careers Conference Reflections

I heard that the Non-Profit Careers Conference (NPCC) is worth the early return to campus, so as I senior, I finally took the plunge and signed up. As a Community-Based Learning (CBL) Intern, I thought that even if I did not have a great time, at least I could have the experience to share with my fellow Interns and CBL participants. I packed whatever business-casual clothes I could find and headed back to Mount St. James a little more than a week before my final semester of classes would begin. I am not kidding when I say that by the end of the conference, I was texting my roommates and telling everyone who asked me about it that it was by far one of my best Holy Cross experiences yet and that everyone should try to participate in it at some point during their four years here.

I am not a person who typically has so many positive things to say about experiences like this one. I am super picky and judgmental, so the fact that I loved every moment of the NPCC should be a testament to how incredibly organized and insightful it was. The participants, presenters, non-profit organizations, and conference organizers are some of the most generous, insightful, and down-right fun people that I’ve come across in my three-and-a-half years here in Worcester. The thought-provoking conversations, reflections, and spiritual insights gave me the boost that I needed to finally narrow down what should come next for me.

As a Deaf Studies and Psychology major, I’ve been struggling with my parents’ decision that I should either be an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter or a teacher of the Deaf. As someone who prefers being the speaker instead of the conveyer of information, and as someone who definitely does not want to teach (sorry, Mom!), these two paths do not fit my personality or my goals, at least at this moment in my life. At some point in the next few years will I consider them again? Absolutely. However, right now I need to make decisions for this upcoming year. That’s where the NPCC comes in.

After a week at the NPCC, some serious research, and a lot of reflection on my past internship and work experiences, I realized that I had never given any thought to public policy. How did I come to realize this? Well, anyone can do non-profit work, so I’ve learned. I thought you had to fit a certain mold and have a certain degree. I was wrong. Anyone can work in the non-profit sector, as long as they have a skill and a passion for helping others. Accountants, tech experts, data analysts, public relation coordinators, etc. all have a place in non-profit work. I didn’t know this prior to attending the conference.

Learning about the inclusivity of non-profit work made me realize that being involved in the Deaf community involves the same idea – as long as I am passionate about the cause, I can bring whatever skills I have and use them to help others. There is no specific mold or certain type of person necessary to create good, useful work. We are all capable.

I’ve performed two years of research relating to Deaf education and educational policy. My capstone for my major focused on the social implications of Deaf ASL users in mainstream schools. I always thought that this meant that my only path was to be a teacher, but now I’m realizing that there are more ways to be involved in Deaf education and the lives of Deaf students without being at the front of the classroom.

I’m not saying that if you go to the NPCC, you’ll then know exactly what your life’s work should be. I’m saying that your mind will be open to new possibilities, new opportunities, and most importantly, new ways of thinking that will change the way you approach the dreaded question: What are you doing after Holy Cross? So, if you’re a scared freshman, sophomore, or junior (sorry seniors, you’re toast!*), consider the NPCC as a great way to start the process of discernment as you consider your options for post-grad life. Whether it is a year of service, graduate school, or working in the trenches, you will find the way.


*You’re not toast. Far from it. Stop by the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning in Fenwick 321 and 322 and ask to talk to Michelle Sterk Barrett or Isabelle Jenkins. Or go to Career Planning and ask to talk to Maura Sweeney or Megan Chester. I can practically guarantee you that a conversation with them will quell your worries. It did for me.

Reflections on the Non-Profit Careers Conference by Emily Breakell

Put simply, the Non-Profit Careers Conference (NPCC) exceeded my expectations and was a productive way to spend part of winter break. Every speaker and contributor to the conference demonstrated an outstanding passion and interest in their work, which is truly amazing and comforting to see as a student considering what a fulfilling post-grad life might look like.

I was specifically interested in community organizing and political engagement, and hearing directly from a community organizer exactly what it is like to work with and advocate for others on the local level was fascinating and reinforced my interest in the relationship between non-profits and politics. Although I am in just my second year of college, the NPCC gave me a lot of insight into the benefits and challenges of working in the non-profit sector and into the diversity of opportunities available.

I have a lot to consider moving forward, but arguably the most important experience that NPCC provided me with will help me as I make important decisions: the awesome privilege of making connections with a number of students and faculty that are deeply invested in leading mission-driven, meaningful lives. It was truly outstanding to meet other Holy Cross students who engage in the community in such important and influential ways and who are considering futures that will be marked by a certain capacity for empathy.

I am impressed by the work of the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning in continuing to challenge students like me to lead lives conscious of the needs of others, and I am extremely grateful that I could attend such a well-planned, productive, and inspiring conference.

It’s Okay to Be Selfish Sometimes

Holy Cross has some of the most motivated students around.  One of the great things about our motivation is how it reaches beyond our academic lives and into the Worcester community.  With over 96% of students having participated in some sort of service program before graduation, it’s safe to say Holy Cross  places great emphasis on serving the community.

Many students don’t realize that this service is a two-way street.  Other students do realize this mutual benefit and struggle to unpack the complications of selfishness in “charity.”  Well, I think it’s okay to be selfish sometimes.  Before you’re too off-put by this statement, hear me out.  I know we live in a culture that tends to look down upon selfishness.  And generally, selfishness is something that deserves to be looked down upon.  But when it comes to service, it’s hard to escape the fact that we can leave feeling that we’ve gotten more out of it than we’ve put in (oftentimes because this is the case).

I think it’s okay to embrace this dynamic for all its inescapability.  On a personal note, I grew up in an environment that completely sheltered me from many of the injustices I’ve learned about through my community engagement.  Although the mark I’ve left on the Worcester community is small in its reach, the mark Worcester has left on me will influence all my pursuits as I look to the future.

Social justice is something I rarely gave serious consideration before I came to Holy Cross.  But after three years of involvement in my community, social justice has become integral to my plans for after graduation.  After seeing the “gritty reality of the world,” I can’t help but feel convicted to use my opportunities and privileges toward positive change–even if it’s a small one.

So, I have to wonder if embracing the selfish aspects of service means becoming aware of the world in a way that was never possible before, then what do you have to lose?


–Rachel Greenberg ’15

CBL Spotlight: Kristen from Ascentria Care Alliance

In the spring semester of my freshman year, I began working at a new CBL site, where I first met Kristen, the Community Coordinator and Case Manager of the Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program at Ascentria Care Alliance. From the very first tutoring session, I was struck by Kristen’s sincerity, unwavering positivity, leadership skills and effortless ability to connect with the clients.

Over the course of the semester, I also grew to admire Kristen for her humility, evident in the fact that she would repeatedly apologize for her “broken Spanish,” although her language skills were nearly impeccable. Week after week, Kristen took a “quiet” leadership approach when conducting group lessons or discussions, always making an effort to listen to the concerns of Holy Cross students and the clients. She worked tirelessly to create a welcoming and enjoyable environment at our sessions, making sure that both Holy Cross students and the clients felt comfortable around one another. Because of her exceptional approachability, I immediately felt less anxious in this new environment.

It was obvious that she was a “pro” at working with these vulnerable immigrant teens, who had just arrived alone in a foreign country, sometimes without any family or friends. Her friendly and calm demeanor made her a natural for the field, as the youth always sought out her advice and help when they felt frustrated or had a bad day at school. Likewise, Kristen was the first person who the clients would speak to about their various accomplishments, like receiving a good grade or winning their soccer game.

In watching Kristen skillfully navigate the highs and lows of working with such a vulnerable group of kids, I was inspired to become more deeply involved in service work. Kristen’s commitment to the clients and passion for serving everyone made me realize the importance of serving others and taking the time to get to know these clients. In having the opportunity to work alongside Kristen at my CBL site, I am beginning to understand the importance of fostering kinship and becoming a woman with others. In learning more about Kristen’s background and in working with her over this past year, I have come to realize that she truly embodies God’s idea of a community, where “no one is standing outside [God’s circle of compassion]” (Boyle, 190).

After working with Kristen for several months now, it was a humbling experience to learn more about how her faith has given her the strength to engage in service every day. Her story is particularly relatable to young individuals, including myself, who struggle to understand why cruel inequities exist in the world. It is fortunate that good-hearted people like Kristen live in our society, as she has bravely committed herself to tackle the messy injustices that most people try to ignore. Her honesty, humility and generosity are inspiring and refreshing, as these qualities are rare in our fairly individualistic and materialistic society.

In my opinion, Kristen embodies God’s ideal vision for humanity, as she hasn’t “forgotten that we belong to one another,” as Mother Teresa said (Boyle, 187). Kristen’s unwavering commitment and passion for service work over the years is a testament to her exceptional character, as she could have easily succumbed to the stress of the job. Overall, Kristen is inspiring, as she has empowered the most powerless population and has courageously accepted God’s call to service. It is clear that Kristen has discovered her God-given vocation and has lived out the mission mentioned in her favorite quote by Frederick Buechner: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

–Shea ’17

Personal Connection through CBL

Every fall for the past three years, I have helped high school students write their college essays as my CBL site. When I started working for this program, I had the mindset that most Holy Cross students have while doing community service – I thought that I was going to make a huge impact on all of their lives. I was wrong. I know this sounds cheesy, but the students have taught me so much more about life and what’s important than I can even begin to teach them.

Before working with these students I thought I was a strong person who could overcome any challenge that may get in my way. However, I have never really been in a position yet, especially during my childhood, that I needed to deal with a very difficult situation. In the course of my time at this CBL site, I’ve read about 60 college essays, and every single one of them has proven to me what true strength is.

I have worked with a student who lived in a one-room shack in India with 10 people and no running water. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting two students who came to the U.S. from Iraq during the war. I’ve gotten to know a student who has struggled to tell his family that he is gay. I’ve worked with a student who was homeless for three years. I’ve talked at length with a student who lived in a Refugee camp in Nepal. And those are only a few examples of the amazing people I have worked with over the years at my site. Despite these incredible challenges, all of them are so determined to rise above their difficult situations and make better lives for themselves through education.

I have found that the key to CBL is being open to really getting to know the population you are interacting with on a weekly basis. The more that I’ve learned about the students on a personal level, the more I’ve been able to critically look at myself and think about how I want to live my own life.


Kristen Kelley, ’15

What CBL Did for Me

I didn’t choose Community-Based Learning; Community-Based Learning chose me. As I sat in my Intro to Women’s and Gender Studies course on the first day of spring semester 2013, I had no idea what CBL was. I had no idea that it would change the way I view education.

In my Women’s and Gender Studies class, our discussions revolved around the kinds of ideas and theories and social issues you would expect when looking at the course title. When I chose to do my placement at Let’s Get Ready, a non-profit that offers free SAT prep courses for high schoolers in the New England area, I couldn’t see how my work in the community could relate back to the kinds of issues relating to gender dynamics we were discussing in class.

But as I thought back on the coursework for the semester, I remembered reading Adrienne Rich’s address to a women’s college about claiming an education. Rich’s speech sought to empower young women to be active claimers of their educations rather than passive recipients.

By the time I completed my placement at LGR, I had seen how the educational injustices in our society have complicated the lives of students in Worcester Public Schools. Lack of access to resources and guidance left many of my students struggling through college applications and the basic work of an SAT prep course. They had to fight for their education in a way I never did. I began to realize how much I’ve taken my educational advantages for granted. I began to realize how much time I’d wasted being a passive recipient of my education.

Watching my students grow and struggle over the course of the semester changed my outlook on education in America. Not only have I come to know how fortunate I am to be a student at Holy Cross–something some of us so easily forget–I’ve learned to approach my education as a source of empowerment.

In high school, I never availed myself of the wealth of service opportunities in my community. I was selfish with my time and with my education. But working with CBL taught me to approach my education in an entirely different way. It taught me that my education is valuable. You’d think that’s something I would have realized long ago based on the price tag alone, but working in the Worcester community added a value that can’t be understood in terms of dollars and cents.

Working with CBL, I learned that my education is something I can share. It’s something I can contribute, however small that contribution is, to ameliorating the educational injustices rampant in our country. It’s something I can use to serve others, and the best part? The more I use it, the more it grows.


–Rachel E. Greenberg