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

A CBL Intern’s Advice on Mindfulness

Wow! I cannot believe I am typing this blog post as a senior CBL Intern. Where has the time gone? Even as an experienced CBL student, I still feel as though there are always things that I could use a refresher on, or at least an opportunity to examine things in a new light. Do you sometimes feel this way?

For this post, I am going to discuss the topic of mental presence and engagement during CBL site visits. As the semester becomes hectic, it becomes more difficult to really appreciate the time I put into my CBL site, because even when I am physically engaged at the site, my mind can be elsewhere. I think it is safe to say that other CBL students may feel this way as well, especially now that we are fully immersed in papers, exams, and various on-campus activities.

“When is that paper due? What am I even writing that paper about? What time are office hours? Did I remind my roommate that I am not going to be back until late tonight?” The crazy stream of consciousness that is constantly churning in a Holy Cross student’s mind can be hard to suppress or even fully appreciate.

After years of participating in CBL opportunities, I still sometimes struggle to be mentally engaged at all times. So, what is a busy student to do? My recommendation is to practice mindfulness at your CBL site.

What does this mean? It means allowing yourself to focus specifically on each task as it happens, instead of worrying about upcoming tasks, whether they are a product of your site or of your impending work schedule. Focus on the math problem that you are helping a high school student to solve, or the donation collection that you are in the midst of organizing. Once you break down the experience into smaller pieces, you are able to more fully absorb events as they occur and you will ultimately learn how to fully appreciate them.

CBL Inspires Me to Seek Further Answers

This summer, my partner, Matthew Watson’16, and I, Cindy Nguyen’15, will be conducting research through the Mellon Summer Research Program on how to establish a community garden. One factor that pushed me to make this initiative was the experience I had at a CBL site. I think this proves that having the component of hands on experience does in fact encourage one to seek further academic development, as well as reflecting upon one’s own beliefs and values (too often we like to remain within our set view of the world).
The research will try to answer three questions:

  • Why a garden? – Why should we choose the medium of a garden as a vehicle of expression?
  • Why a community garden? – By incorporating the community into this garden project, in what ways does Holy Cross and local organizations benefit?
  • What type of garden? – In order to determine what agricultural methods the garden will use, we must decide what crops to plant, what agricultural techniques will be used, and answer other physically and spatially oriented questions.

One of the things that inspired me was a class I took as a freshman, which was a food philosophy course called, “I am, Therefore I Eat,” (recently became a CBL course) taught by Professor Borghini. The class gave me the tools to start critically thinking about the topic of food, and led me to volunteer for the Community Harvest Project. This organization is a non-profit, which grows, tends, and produces fresh vegetables and fruits in order to assist with the alarming hunger issues in Worcester County. I first learned about the non-profit organization through interning at the Community-Based Learning department at my school. The department’s mission is to encourage students to take the theories they learn in class and try to critically apply them with hands-on experience. I did just that… It should be noted that when I did volunteer for the Community Harvest Project, I was a junior; yet, the knowledge I have gained from the class as a freshman resonated within me. The different ideas, theories, and discussions from a few semesters ago came back to me.
My time at Community Harvest Project showed me that farming is similar to a form of art—it is intricate in many ways. The method you use must be executed accordingly, or else your crops will fail. The way you act on it, requires a delicate hand, as well as pride for your work. It is so exhausting and sometimes redundant that you almost want to give up, similar to a painter who can’t seem to get that one aspect of his work the way he likes it. Moreover, it requires knowledge about your surroundings because you might just stumble upon some friendly—or not so friendly—creatures. Lastly, farming is unpredictable, which requires you to reevaluate and do some experimenting.

Frustrating as it seems, there is a beauty to it. The idea of growing and harvesting produce is something to take great pride in, as the work is not easy, and it takes a tremendous effort and devotion in order to have a successful season. In addition, working with other people and being in touch with the environment results in something deeper. The engagement and the awareness you gain from forming relations with strangers, acquaintances, or friends can create a unique bond and learning experience. You find something about yourself, and you discover something new about the world. Oftentimes in our mundane routine, we tend to ignore the dysfunctional and flawed parts of our lives because we like to feel ‘comfortable.’ Thus, tending a garden, side-by-side, to produce something so fundamentally valuable in our daily lives creates a positive sense of unity and harmony.
I am positive that through this journey I will discover new answers and develop a new way of thinking. Essentially, academics and experience go hand-in-hand as it forces us to constantly have an open mind and critically examine the world as a whole.

Community Harvest Project Awards Holy Cross the “Higher Education Partner of the Year” Award

Higher Education Partner of the Year:  College of Holy Cross

The College of the Holy Cross was recognized for their multi-faceted partnership with Community Harvest Project.  Over the course of 2013 they supported us with interns that assisted with our summer operations and completed special projects furthering our mission.  A group of students from their Non-Profits Career Conference formatted a survey to be implemented this summer which will allow us to capture feedback from our partner organizations that we have never had before.  They also were a key supporter of our “Teaching Garden” through the Working for Worcester Program.

CBL Project highlighted in the Telegram & Gazette

Cristal Steuer wrote the following about a CBL project conducted in Amy Wolfson and Pat Bizzell’s Liberal Arts, Leadership, and Social Change class:

In a column for the “Business Matters” section in the Telegram & Gazette, Aaron Nicodemus writes about eight seniors at the College of Holy Cross who  interviewed local business and community leaders four years ago as freshmen, then recently re-interviewed them as college seniors. “The students learned bits of wisdom and advice that, hopefully, will help them build successful careers. They also learned about some incredible life stories and accomplishments of ordinary people living and working here in Worcester,” he wrote.

Michelle Sterk Barrett,  director of the Donelan Office of Community Based Learning at Holy Cross, told the Telegram & Gazette, “In this particular class, the students asked their first-year Montserrat professors, Amy Wolfson and Patricia Bizzell, if they could reconvene again as seniors,” she said “They were seeking the opportunity to collectively reflect upon their experience of attending a rigorous, Jesuit, liberal arts college and what it taught them about leadership, diversity and social change. … In particular, the assignment required that they learn more about the path this person followed to success, the qualities he/she sees in an effective leader, and the extent to which she/he sees gender and diversity playing into leadership functions.”

Interviews ranged from Tim Garvin, the president and CEO of United Way of Central Massachusetts, to Ann Lisi, CEO of The Greater Worcester Community Foundation.

Students in the class include Kelly Burke, Lauren Chin, Henry Callegary, David Odell, Carmen Ana Alvarez, Jonathan Casseus, Stephanie Okpoebo, and Jeffrey Reppucci.

This “Holy Cross in the News” item by Cristal Steuer.

CBL at the Academic Conference

Last week’s CBL presentations at the academic conference were fantastic! Students from Bridget Franco’s Aspects of Spanish American Culture class presented about what they learned from discussing Dominican merengue, Mexican music, and Latin American sports with the Latino Elders Program at Centro los Americas.  Students from Denis Kennedy’s Humanitarianism class presented their country conditions research on Syria, El Salvador, and Sudan/South Sudan that will be utilized in legal cases for asylees.  Two students from my Community Engagement and Social Responsibility class presented on what they learned about refugees and immigration through the Unaccompanied Minor Refugee Program run by Lutheran Social Services.

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

Introducing the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning’s (CBL) Blog!

Greetings fellow Crusaders, and welcome to our blog! This blog will mainly be written by the four of us, Community-Based Learning (CBL) Interns, Cindy Nguyen (’15), Rachel Greenberg (’15), Annie Wynters (’14), and Jake Medina (’16). For our very first blog, we would like to allow you, the reader, to learn why we are blogging and what to expect in our future posts.

If you’re not familiar with the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning, click here to learn more about what we do! For all of us, participating in CBL is a defining aspect of our Holy Cross experiences. Everyday on the Hill, we are constantly reminded why we have chosen a liberal arts education–not just for the academics, but to also develop and grow as a person, to widen our horizons, and to never stop questioning the imperfections in our society.

We started this blog because we want to share the stories and insights we gain through our personal experiences with CBL. We want to invite everyone to join our journeys of frustration, happiness, revelation, and confusion. We don’t want the dialogues to stop when you leave your CBL class or when you leave your CBL site; instead, we want to create a place where you, our fellow Crusaders, feel welcome and might even discover a little bit about yourselves.

 

A few words from the CBL Interns: What does CBL means to you?

Cindy: CBL is another outlet for me to continue an academic and personal dialogue about the social structure that is embodied within our communities.

Jake: With the understanding that life is not a lecture, CBL engages me in a way that expands the classroom and creates opportunity for personal, spiritual, and academic growth.

Rachel:  CBL has given me the chance to get over myself, get into the community, and claim my education.

Annie: CBL has given me the unique opportunity to ground theories of the classroom in real world experience. I have found my passion for responding for social justice issues present at the community sites I have been placed at with urgency, lessons I will take with me far beyond the gates of Holy Cross.”