“Building and Strengthening Community” – Kat Hauver ’22

There is no doubt this past year has been challenging for many reasons. For Community Based Learning, one of my concerns was not feeling connected to the Holy Cross and Worcester communities and our own Intern community. Of course, I had faith that this group of wonderful people would rise to the occasion, but I knew the community would look and feel different. This year, I had the privilege of being one of the Community Development Coordinators. I had the opportunity to help plan our Intern meetings that were focused on building and strengthening our Intern community. The first semester, we read Ijeoma Oluo’s So You Want to Talk about Race? and had very lively book club meetings. The passion for social justice and engagement with important topics was as intense as ever. It gave me hope that I could still talk with other people who wanted to be part of these discussions and make meaningful contributions and changes to our community. During the spring semester, we focused on community building. We played games over Zoom, such as Scatttegories and Skribblio, and also had purposeful discussions about our goals for the semester and how we wanted to achieve them. We learned more about each other and made new connections. Reflecting on this past year has helped me realize that the Intern community is one that does not shy away from challenges, but rather chooses to engage with them and come out even stronger. I am thankful to be part of such an incredible community that is dedicated, supportive, and extremely welcoming.

“Why I serve” – Jeremiah Bialkowski ’21

Preparing for my upcoming graduation is a bittersweet experience. I find myself reminiscing on the many opportunities I have had during my four years at Holy Cross. One of the most meaningful experiences I’ve had is engaging in service through CBL. It not only has allowed me to see all that Worcester offers but also taught me why service is so beneficial, and in particular what it means to me. This year I have begun to focus on the discernment of my life path and how I can continue serving others in the future. Leading me to ask myself the question, why do I serve? 

According to Fr. Michael Himes, when discerning our life path, we must reflect on what brings us joy. For me, since I was young, I have found joy in cooking. For as long as I can remember, I have loved to cook. My parents tell me stories of how I used to watch them over them as they prepared dinner, and how for my first Halloween at school, I decided I wanted to dress up as a chef.  This love for cooking has been passed down for generations on both sides of my family. It was a way to connect and engage in conversations through a communal meal. It also allowed me to learn about new cultures through different recipes I found. I can remember spending hours reading my Emeril cookbook that showcased a recipe from each country. I loved learning what customs people around the world had and how they too came together as a family to enjoy a meal. Today, I still find so much meaning in developing connections with others and learning about their unique perspectives on the world. Which I believe attributed to my passion for cooking. 

As I began service at Holy Cross, I found that this passion for learning about others and making connections motivates me to continue serving others. My first CBL experience at Catholic Charities Mercy Centre, an organization that served individuals with developmental disabilities, allowed me to understand what service truly means. After my first day, I wanted to change my site. I felt like I was not contributing anything. During the time I spent there, I was not actively doing anything other than conversing with others. Through reflection sessions in my Montserrat course “Exploring Differences,” I began to realize how beneficial this type of service was and how much I enjoyed it. I was there in community with others who are often looked down upon by society. I learned about their passions and built great connections with them each week. This is what has motivated me to keep serving others. Through these experiences, I learn about the world through conversation and build connections with people whose lives are different than my own. Although, service can sometimes seem difficult, as the problems we try and ease are often intractable.  I find hope and stay motivated through the power of others. When I feel discouraged, I gain strength by listening to others and hearing their passion surrounding issues they care about. The power of coming together is so important to me as division only worsens these issues. 

I serve because I find joy in learning about others and building meaningful relationships. I desire to serve in ways that will positively have an impact on others and work towards real change in the world. Finally, I serve because through the power of hope, I feel we can create a world that is more just and equitable for all, where all people can succeed and share their unique gifts. After I graduate, I hope to continue serving others and learn about the world through community. I will forever be grateful to Holy Cross and the CBL office for allowing me to explore new opportunities that led to me finding a true passion within serving others.

“Why I decided to apply to become a CBL Intern” – Anh Nguyet Phan ’21

Conflicted on whether or not to apply to the Community-Based Learning Intern program? 

Well let me tell you how I got involved and how thankful I currently am four years later as a senior at Holy Cross! Three years ago, I was a freshman who had my eyes set on doing well in my science classes to achieve my long term goal of becoming a dentist. I was a very ambitious student, taking the three STEM classes that everyone advised not to take together: chemistry, biology, and calculus. My fourth class, my Montserrat class, was a class that my naive freshman self thought would not be useful and enjoyable because it was not related to the field of science. However, to this day, my Montserrat class ended up being one my favorite classes I have taken at Holy Cross, and a class that I will always be thankful for because it introduced me to CBL.

Freshman year, I was given the great opportunity to volunteer at the Worcester Public Library to help adults of varying ages study for the citizenship exam. To some, this experience might be another service opportunity; however, to me, it meant a lot more that I was able to help with something so close to my heart. Being an immigrant myself and having to go through the citizenship exam to get my citizenship, I know how much pressure and work the whole process is. Being able to help these folks take a step closer at achieving their dreams meant everything to me- and it still does. Seeing not only the positive impact that I had, but also the impact that the opportunity had on me, I knew that I wanted to apply to the CBL Intern Program. 

In addition, through CBL, I was able to reconnect with my 6th grade teacher at my elementary school, Worcester Academy, as I volunteered in her classroom during my sophomore and junior year. Just over ten years ago, I was a kid that was struggling to read, write, and speak the English language. Who I am today is largely because of the amount of work, time, and effort that Woodland Academy put into me during my time there. To be able to give back a little of what my elementary school and teachers had given me is an absolute privilege, and I cannot be thankful enough to CBL for allowing me to do so. This experience revealed to me just how much I love the Worcester community, how much I want to learn more about it, and how much I want to give back to it. Through CBL, I am able to do all of this, and this realization also pushed me to apply for the CBL Intern Program at the end of my freshman year. 

In addition to this, other aspects of the program also intrigued and excited me. I was most looking forward to building my communication and leadership skills through working with community partners, students, and staff. From being a CBL Intern for the last three years, I can confidently say that I have accomplished this and much more. CBL not only helped me become a more well-rounded student, but also a well-rounded Worcester resident and individual. Ever since freshman year, CBL has become my family, and I feel so thankful and fortunate to be a part of this program. If you share the same excitement for Worcester and CBL, I highly encourage you to consider applying!

“Why I Applied to the CBL Intern Program and Advice for Applicants” – Gabi Beaulieu ’21

My Montserrat course had a huge impact on my time at Holy Cross, and specifically, its CBL component greatly influenced my experience here on the hill. For my CBL, I chose to volunteer at St. Mary Health Care Center, and three years later, I’m still there. The relationship I formed with my resident, Sr. Marie, was so special to me. I loved learning about her life and how much she had done for Worcester. My week wasn’t complete unless I got to spend time chatting, laughing, and playing games with Sr. Marie. What was most unexpected to me about my relationship with Sr. Marie was how much it taught me about service. I learned that service isn’t about doing things for other people, it’s about mutual relationships. Over the three years I spent with Sr. Marie, she became one of my closest friends here in Worcester. I loved our time together and our visits meant just as much to me, if not more, as they did to her. Service is about getting to know the people in our community and recognizing that each of us has so much to gain from the relationships we can form.

I became a CBL intern because I wanted to share the experience I had with other students. I want to help other students see how much they can gain by becoming a part of the Worcester community, and I want to share these experiences together. I became a CBL intern because I wanted to find more ways to be involved in the Worcester community and learn more about the social justice issues that surround us. The CBL community has allowed me to reflect on my experiences, join in on important conversations, and grow into the person I wanted to become.

When I applied to be a CBL intern, I focused a lot on my essay. As I thought about how to answer the questions, I realized how influential my CBL experience had been. I focused on my time at St. Mary and my relationship with Sr. Marie. I wrote about the friendship we had formed and how special my time with her was. As I wrote my essay, I reflected on how much my relationship with Sr. Marie had taught me. It was in writing my essay that I began to realize how much Sr. Marie taught me about service and how much I had grown in my understanding of what it means to be men and women for and with others. When writing my essay, I had a whole new appreciation for CBL and how it had influenced my time at Holy Cross. As I went about the application process it became even more clear to me how much I wanted to be a part of the CBL intern community. I remember being very nervous for my interview, my heart racing and hands shaking as I sat outside the Donelan Office and waited for Isabelle to call my name. However, I also remember how comfortable Isabelle, Michelle, and the interns made me feel. The interview felt more like a conversation, and I loved learning more about the CBL intern program and experiences the interns had. Although there were moments when the application process felt stressful, overall it made me realize how wonderful CBL is and how much I wanted to continue my experience with CBL as an intern.

My advice for students who want to apply to be a CBL intern is to be honest and reflective in the application process. How has CBL influenced your time at Holy Cross? What have you learned about service, Worcester, and yourself throughout your CBL experiences? How would becoming an intern enhance your CBL experience? Use the essay and the interview as a way to look back on all the positive experiences you’ve had with CBL. Also, if you’re at all like me and the interview seems to be a nerve-wracking experience, take a deep breath and remember that we just want to hear about your experiences with CBL. Lastly, ask questions! It shows your interest and desire to become a part of the CBL intern community.

“Applying to the CBL Intern Program” – Sarah Ayers ’23

I still remember how nervous I was sitting in a circle with seven of my classmates during my first CBL reflection session last year. It was the first time I actively reflected on the service I was doing. In high school, I volunteered at soup kitchens, food banks, and my local elementary school, but I never took the time to reflect on those experiences afterwards. As I sat with my Montserrat classmates talking about my time at Herd Street Elementary School or Ascentria Care Alliance, I began to realize the power of reflection. I learned about Toxic Charity, or the concept that despite our best intentions, service is not always helpful and can be degrading to the recipients of service. I learned about the idea of reciprocity and experienced firsthand how service is beneficial both for the person giving and receiving. My first year at Holy Cross changed my mindset regarding community engagement, and it made me realize that I do not just want service to be another extra-curricular activity I add to my resumé. I wanted service to be a central part of my college experience.

I knew Holy Cross offered students many ways to get involved with the Worcester community, but I also knew that one of the best parts of my Montserrat was getting to hear about other students’ experiences. Listening to my classmates reflect on their days at their CBL site often deepened my understanding of my own service. Also, I wanted to continue reflecting on social justice issues outside of an academic setting with other students who were passionate about the topic. Furthermore, I wanted to help other students understand service the same way the CBL interns who led our reflection sessions helped me. With all of these thoughts in mind during the spring of my first year I decided to apply to be a CBL Intern, so that I could continue participating in service, reflecting on my service, and learning from others.

The first step of the process was relatively simple. As I sat writing out answers to the various questions on the application, I began to realize how much the position meant to me. It was yet another chance for me to consider the ways in which my time at my CBL site impacted me. My time working with third graders during my first semester offered much needed relief from the constant stress of never-ending classes and assignments. During my second semester, I sat in a classroom with fourteen recent immigrants learning English grammar and pronunciation. All of the people I met were from different countries and spoke different languages. I began to recognize how difficult it is to learn the English language, and I learned about the struggles and persecution immigrants face in America. I wrote about these two vastly different yet eye-opening experiences in my response to the essay questions. I found that the initial application offered me the opportunity to reflect on my own interest in the program and what I was hoping to gain from the experience if I was selected. This also happened to be extremely helpful for the next step in the intern selection process.

The final step in the process, the interview, was certainly the part I was most worried about. I was unsure if I would be able to accurately express my interest in the program and articulate the ways my CBL experience influenced my time at Holy Cross. However, I was grateful to find that the interview was relatively conversational, and the reflection I did while preparing my written application certainly made it easier to relay my experiences to the interns who interviewed me. Despite my worries about the process and the brief anxiety I felt during that time period, I am happy to say that being a CBL intern continues to be the most rewarding activity I participate in at Holy Cross. Every day I am inspired by the people I meet through my service site, my fellow CBL interns, and other students involved with CBL. The application process proved to be far less daunting than I made it out to be, and I am forever grateful for the connections and experiences I gained through this community.

“For and with Others and Recent Events” – Yesenia Gutierrez ’21

Being a man or woman for and with others is not an easy motto to fulfill. It is an everyday challenge, more so with the uncertainty that the current pandemic has given us all. COVID-19 has limited the ways that we can serve our communities and be fully present at the community organizations that we participate in. Despite the ongoing challenges that this pandemic has brought, I had the unique opportunity to reside in Washington D.C this past semester and be part of the Washington Semester cohort. During my time in DC, I continued serving undocumented minors seeking asylum at Ascentria Care Alliance (Worcester, MA) through academic tutoring, while interning at the National Immigration Forum in Washington D.C. Having the opportunity to be in both of these spaces allowed me to experience and be part of a unique situation of overcoming the challenges of communicating and serving remotely the individuals that the organizations serve. 

One of the connections that both the Ascentria Care Alliance and the National Immigration Forum have, aside from serving immigrant communities, were the continuous challenges that both organizations had to overcome during the Trump Administration. Under the Trump Administration, Ascentria had limited options to fulfill its asylum cases because the Trump Administration put into place heavier limitations on Asylum seekers upon the rise of COVID-19. Similarly, the National Immigration Forum had limitations to further serve immigrant communities because of the policies that the Trump Administration pushed forward that challenged various work visas and citizenship routes. Given the challenges that I observed in both of the organizations, for me, President Joe Biden symbolized a new era and an opportunity for democracy to live another day. While I personally was not thrilled about Biden, I knew that having him in office would bring stability that American constituents desperately sought during a time of so much uncertainty with the ongoing pandemic. 

November 7, 2020: 

When President Biden won the election in November of 2020, I felt a sense of relief and joy. As I walked through the streets of Georgetown, everyone was out honking their cars and blasting “Party in the U.S.A” to celebrate the start of a new era. I remember the excitement that staff members in both organizers felt because of the work that they will continue to do with the new administration. One of the remaining elections that organizations anticipated was the senate race in Georgia. All eyes were on the state, as it was a deciding factor of whether the Democrats would take the majority of Senate, completely changing the game for the upcoming years. 

January 6, 2021: 

When the results of the Senate race were released, I was filled with joy that not only were we able to flip the Senate thanks to the work and community organizing that happened in Georgia but that Georgia also saw its first Black senator. Unfortunately, the celebration did not last long as headlines quickly turned their cameras to what seemed an impossible event in our lifetime, the invasion of the Capitol Building. I remember watching Univision, a Latinx news network, with my family in the living room in disbelief of what we were watching. While the actual invasion of the Capitol Building was not what triggered me, given that it was materialistic and it can all be replaced or fixed, what really hurt seeing was the symbol of democracy on thin ice that day. As a country that takes pride in its democratic government, it was a very challenging day that created a shockwave across the globe. The invasion of the Capitol Building illustrated a few things to me: 

  1. Racism is very much well and alive in today’s society. The images shown of the nooses around the Capitol Building continue to haunt me to this day. Phrases like “America is not like this” was painful to read because it further illustrated that individuals in positions of privilege never realized that the America that everyone saw across the globe are the realities of marginalized communities in the United States. While I was personally shocked by the events, I was not surprised. 
  2. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) are not given equal treatment when it comes to our Criminal Justice System and Law Enforcement. When comparing the response of law enforcement during the Black Lives Matter movement and the invasion of the Capitol Building, one can clearly see how differently white individuals are treated in comparison to Black individuals. In a sense, it was surprising to see the response of law enforcement during the invasion of the Capitol Building because there were law enforcement officers harmed, even killed, as individuals around chanted in approval. 
  3. Community organizing must continue and not stop with the election of Joe Biden. His victory illustrates the power of community organizing, a movement that is driven by social justice and while it’s not a perfect start by any means, it is an opportunity for community organizations to breathe and continue their work to break unjust systems. While we are in a new era and the Democrats have taken the majority of the Senate, conversations must continue in order to dismantle and create an anti-racist society. 

January 20, 2021: 

Weeks after the invasion of the Capitol Building, President Biden’s inauguration brought back a sense of unity. I remember watching my family filled with joy as both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris were being sworn into office. Barriers were broken that day as VP Harris became the first woman and of Black/ Southeast Asian descent to take office. Additionally, the artistic talents of powerful women such as Amanda  Gorman, Lady Gaga and Jennifer Lopez filled the stage with light and joy. It was crazy to think how just short weeks before the Inauguration, the Capitol Building looked completely different and gloomy. 

Being a man or a woman for and with others is not an easy task. As illustrated in the events that have occurred in our country in such a short amount of time, taking an active stance can be difficult especially when having different political opinions or when having near-by loved ones that have different political opinions. We must challenge ourselves and those around us to further understand the systemic, cultural, and political inequalities in our society that negatively impact BIPOC communities. Upon understanding, we need to actively participate in the change to dismantle the structures that create inequality whether it’s through our vote, community organizing, or informing those around us. 

“Alone Together” – Emily Taylor ’22

This year, we have collectively felt an overwhelming sense of loss: for lives cut short by illness and injustice; for weddings, birthdays, and holidays celebrated without friends and family close by; and for all that was interrupted and all that could have been. This year has been heartbreaking, and it has been so challenging to remain productive in the midst of it all. I struggled to feel settled at the beginning of this semester. The class structures were unfamiliar, all aspects of extracurricular life remained uncertain for weeks, and I sorely missed the comforts of our campus that I had been taking for granted. However, I found resilience in community, and I’m particularly grateful to the Donelan Office. They have been a source of constant warmth and growth throughout my time at Holy Cross, and in spite of everything, this semester was no different. I have relied heavily on the patience and kindness of Isabelle, Michelle, and the other Interns. Rather than our biweekly meetings adding to my Zoom fatigue, I have come away from each and every Intern meeting feeling refreshed.

I’m especially thankful that leaders from the J.D. Power Center, the Chaplains’ Office, and OME among other faculty members worked together to build a new, virtual space for peer connection and continued civic engagement: the Civitas Leadership Institute. In our current times, we love each other best by maintaining our distance, but what does this mean for our commitment to be “for and with others”? The COVID-19 pandemic has been a heightened call to support those in need, but how can we be spiritually together while we are physically alone? The concept of civitas calls us to consider the responsibilities we have for other members of our shared communities, and the Leadership Institute served as a gathering place to find hope, strength, and direction with one another. Consisting of a month-long series of conversations about service and justice, Civitas encouraged us to be contemplatives in action. We considered how to best live out the Jesuit mission, we heard about ways we can organize in order to bring about equitable change, and we reflected upon where we can find hope in challenging times. The Civitas Leadership Institute demonstrated that we can continue to live a life of service and justice even when more traditional engagement avenues are unavailable. 

Through my time as a CBL Intern and as a student in the AIP seminar on Nonprofits and Government Agencies, I had already participated in multiple discussions about the topics that the Institute covered. However, this material becomes no less impactful over time; it is valuable to continue to learn about social justice concerns because with each re-read and new discussion, I am able to gain novel insights. During the Institute, I connected most deeply to the content about hope. There have been considerable setbacks politically, economically, and socially, and it’s been hard to remain hopeful. Michelle’s reflection on perseverance has stayed with me throughout the past month; hope is not magic nor a cure-all, but it is critical for continuing the difficult work we are called to do.

Although the Civitas Leadership Institute looked very different from my community engagement in past semesters, it still provided a space for contemplation. In my reflection, I’ve realized that despite the many negative aspects of this year, I still have a lot to be thankful for. This is not to suggest that anyone should rush their grieving process and adopt an attitude of blind optimism; we should feel it all — the frustration, the disillusionment, the overwhelming anxiety — for as long as it is healthy. Once we have grieved, we can begin to see how some of our losses have come back to us as gifts. Personally, I am grateful for hours-long Zoom calls with friends and family who live far away; although we have had the technology for years, we never actually used it before now. I am grateful that I was able to spend nine more months living with my older brother before he moved away. I am grateful for home-cooked meals, for the ability to bake desserts every weekend, and especially for the Dunkin’ Donuts five minutes from my house. Nothing about this year has been what any of us envisioned, but there are still patches of joy, warmth, and gratitude to be found. For all the grief we are collectively shouldering, this year has, at the very least, reminded us of our civic responsibility to ensure one another’s safety and comfort. We are members of the same community, and fundamentally, we belong to each other.

“Gratitude for and with others” – Morgan Vacca ’23

This semester, I have spent time getting to know the students and professionals involved with the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program. The Worcester Public Schools Transition Program seeks to promote self-sufficiency for 18-22 year old students facing a wide range of intellectual and physical challenges. Ultimately, through my virtual involvement in this wonderful group, I’ve learned about the power of gratitude in these unprecedented times. 

As I began my involvement with WPS, I found that virtually meeting everyone and getting to know the program would be a challenge. The craziness of “muting” and wifi connection certainly proved themselves as strong barriers to normalcy. After my first meeting, I remember being frustrated about the number of conversations that had been interrupted by technological difficulties. As the semester progressed, though, we worked together to solve these problems. We developed virtual projects to work on with Google Slides, we created artwork together, played get-to-know you games, and even laughed at some of the technical difficulties that were once so stressful. 

It was only when I started appreciating the creativity and teamwork that resulted from our struggles when I truly understood the power of gratitude. Before this experience, I had previously thought of gratitude in terms of materiality: being grateful for the things you have that others might not. I was certainly grateful for the material things in my life, and found that acknowledging this wealth of materiality was a benefit to my mindset. However, while gratitude can be material, it’s not always about “things.” 

As I continued to ponder the concept of gratitude, I realized that feeling grateful for simply being with the WPS Transition Program is what made my time so special. Appreciating every moment of our meetings, even through a computer screen, not only improved the quality of my contributions to myself and to others, but improved the quality of the connections I was making. Gratitude is the exact reason why our semester was successful; we faced a number of challenges, but were able to solve them by appreciating the opportunity to be with each other. For this reason, gratitude can’t be something we reserve for dinner conversations on Thanksgiving or gift-giving on Christmas. In this virtual world, it’s easy to lose any hope of making enjoyable connections or discoveries. However, by simply practicing gratitude, I realized that the connection and discovery we’re so deeply craving has been at our fingertips this whole time. If we truly maintain a sense of awe about the present moment, we realize how wonderful it really is, and are able to seize the endless opportunities it brings.

Pre and Post Presidential Election, Jocelyn Hernandez ’23

The 2020 presidential election was a significant one for me because it was the first time that I was able to vote. One of the main avenues I turned to for support pre-election was Holy Cross’ Latin American Student Organization (LASO). In February, I attended the “Exploring the Candidates with LASO” where I heard from different HC students who each interned with Democratic candidates during the January term. This event was insightful for me because it allowed me to learn more about the Democratic candidates’ policies and values. I was glad to see that LASO continued to provide this space even virtually by contributing an episode on the 2020 election to their Spotify podcast channel, Viva La Cultura. Something I appreciated from the podcast was being able to hear other Latinx students reflect on the toll that the election was having on them because I was able to realize that I was not the only one who was experiencing the same urge for the election to happen. 

During the week of the election, I was not getting much sleep or able to get much work done either because I found myself constantly refreshing the electoral college map on my phone. It was also difficult for me to focus in class because of the anxious feeling of wanting to know who won the election. However, I also understood that every vote had to be counted and because of the mail-in votes, it may take some time. By the end of the week, I was thankful for the right to vote and democracy. 

I vividly remember exactly what I was doing when Joe Biden was named the winner in Pennsylvania. I am sure that this is a moment that I will remember for the rest of my life. My mother came into my room and we both cried together because we both knew what was at stake. I remember calling my father to tell him the news and the sigh of relief I heard from his voice because Biden winning meant that his temporary status in the US would be safe. I remember how happy my heart felt as I watched the news covering the celebration in Philadelphia, DC, and New York. 

Something else I was appreciative of was the Women of Color Reacting to the Election space that Professor Rodrigues and Xochitl Tapia’ 21 provided for women of color because it allowed me to reflect and share my thoughts on the election with other women who had the same perspective as me as well as the same experiences on campus. For me, it was heartwarming to connect with Professor Rodrigues and the other participants. My favorite part of the event was how everyone was listening to each other because it made me feel a lot better about the election and the aftermath of counting the votes. 

A week and a half after the release of the election results, I am hopeful for the Biden Harris administration. For me, as we enter this period before their inauguration, it is important to hold both Biden and Harris accountable for the policies and plans that they highlighted during their campaign. Three of the main issues important to me are stopping systemic racism, immigration reform and providing a more accessible legal process to citizenship for immigrants, and the COVID-19 plan. As their inauguration approaches, I will be doing everything I can do to continue to stay involved and seek ways where I can help continue to promote and enforce change. 

It’s also important to hold the Biden and Harris administration accountable for my CBL site. When volunteering at Ascentria, I work with unaccompanied refugee minors by tutoring and helping them learn English. Ascentria provides the academic and emotional support needed for their students to adapt to a new country and environment. One of the most inspiring things about Ascentria students is their hope and determination to continue to pursue their education and create a better life for themselves. Having policies that include refugee minors is important to the population that I work with because without these policies, refugee minors would not be able to obtain the education they deserve.

Understanding the “Two Feet” of Service and Social Justice in my Hometown and Ascentria  – Dora Calva ’22

As mentioned in my Community-Based Learning (CBL) newsletter highlight, I volunteered with my high school friends to start this organization called Brick City Aid. The organization came to be because COVID-19 has dramatically changed everyone’s lives, particularly vulnerable people such as the homeless community have been more affected. My friends and I started by having zoom meetings to discuss how to turn this small idea into an organization. We all knew we were passionate about social justice issues that impacted our hometown, Newark, NJ. Once we had all of our ideas organized, it was time to raise awareness through social media. We even created a GofundMe account, which was a success for the first of our many distributions.

Engaging in service while also tackling the social justice issues reminded me of Holy Cross’s Jesuit values. The phrase “for and with others” has been something I have gotten to know more at a deeper level. Even though I have volunteered at food banks and clothing drives since high school, since my Montserrat class with Professor Ryan, Exploring Differences, I finally began to understand the true meaning of the “for and with others.” I have learned that there are two components in Community-Based Learning that should always go hand-in-hand. One is service by volunteering at your site. We continuously explore service as part of the surface level that many volunteers end up doing. Service is great, don’t get me wrong, but service should not be the only goal you look forward to attending your CBL site. The second component is understanding the social justice issues at hand. Service and social justice issues should be the “two feet” you walk with and keep your balance. I say this because thinking about social justice leads you to begin to question why CBL is needed in the first place. 

This semester, I volunteer at Ascentria Unaccompanied Refugees Minors Program (URMP) through being a CBL Intern.The opportunity to be able to be part of the Worcester community even virtually is a blessing, although tutoring students through Zoom has not been the easiest. I have witnessed firsthand the difficulty it is to connect on the phone rather than a computer. Sometimes, when it comes time for Ascentria students to connect to their wifi, it is unstable to the point where you can’t hear their voices. Even managing the zoom features in English was troublesome at first, as many of them speak Spanish. I can connect with the Ascentria students’ technology experiences because starting of this semester was a troublesome adjustment as the week before school, I had just been in an accident with my friend. For the following days, my mother and sister kept me a priority; however, we all knew I had to leave again because the home environment was not suitable to focus on any assignments. As I moved to Buffalo, NY, I soon realized that I left my computer in my house’s front porch chair. The next two weeks were challenging as I needed to use my phone to join zoom for my classes and meetings. Even submitting homework was limited as there were not that many options accessible through my mobile device. As soon as my computer arrived, I felt relieved that I could finally get more work done. 

 Despite my own challenges and the challenges Ascentria students face, I have noticed the eagerness and willingness of both Ascentria and Holy Cross students to do their part. I always look forward to spending the afternoon with a student and trying my best to get through most of the homework via the share my screen option on zoom. Through my CBL experience, I have gotten to know students I have not met previously, which has also been fulfilling because learning about who they are is something you can’t exchange time with money. 

Returning to the “two feet” mentioned above, I have reflected that Ascentria students and others who are trying to do well in their studies sometimes do not have all the available resources at their fingertips. Knowing this, I want to make a difference by applying for the Marshall Memorial Fund in the future through the Donalen Office.