“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.

AVID/Holy Cross College Readiness Virtual Panels – Guest Blogger, Community Partner, Janet Mathieu

Guest blogger, community partner, Janet Mathieu (Community Resource and AVID Specialist) blogs about a recent virtual partnership between AVID in WPS and Holy Cross students.

 

The College of the Holy Cross and Worcester Public Schools AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) have partnered since 2009.  It is a positive collaborative relationship involving recruitment of Holy Cross students to lead collaborative study groups (AVID tutorials) in the AVID classrooms. The Donelan Office at Holy Cross supplies us with numerous CBL students who adeptly participate in AVID, as AVID trained tutors. The AVID tutors provide direct instructional support to students with the assistance of the AVID Elective teacher using an inquiry process and serving as role models.

AVID’s goal is to share the tools with our students to inspire academic effort and growth, celebrate achievement, and provide exposure to college enriching opportunities. 

Realizing our constraints with distance learning due to COVID-19, who else would we turn to but the Community Based Learning at the College of the Holy Cross. To hear firsthand about the college experience from college students themselves makes the college experience real and attainable. Hence, we collaborated with the Donelan Office and quickly formulated the Holy Cross/AVID college student panel.  

Five students, Julianne Esteves ’22, Kathryn Hauver ’22, Sly Dwyer ’21, Julianna Lopez-Picardi ’21, and Ronald Pena ’21 shared what it was like to transition from middle school through high school and onto college.  Each college student had a different journey which was insightful and enriching for our middle school students to envision their own trajectory to college.  

The virtual panel discussion was a grand success!  Elizabeth Pirani, AVID teacher exclaimed, “It was just the kind of experience that the students needed… not only for the exposure to college and career but the ‘socialization’ of the experience made such a positive impact on them.  Students at this time, work only in their designated groups and besides their teachers, they see no one else through the course of the day. They don’t ‘see’ their friends and are not able to make new ones, they don’t have a locker, they don’t go to the lunchroom, they are probably doing  ‘physical education’ in front of the computer screen.” So in some small ways, Ms. Pirani feels the interactive panel helped to fill that void.

The panelists shared a multitude of tips:

      • Plan a challenging course schedule.
      • Keep records of classes and grades.
      • Work on time management.
      • Persevere no matter what.
      • Gather information on various colleges, majors and careers. 

Outside of academics the college students talked about the importance of doing what makes you happy.  Extracurricular activities that make them who they are included working at a zoo, taking a hospice internship, being a blogger about ice cream, and working at UMass Medical. 

A highlight of particular interest to the AVID students was when Sly talked about receiving an “F” on one of his first papers, in freshman year. His professor asked that he come to see her. That was a turning point for him. Sly was upset because he worked very hard on the paper, he felt unprepared for the workload and he didn’t know how to move forward.  He said his professor wanted him to succeed and assisted him every step of the way.  He said the encouragement, support and belief in him succeeding is what made all the difference in moving forward.  He is currently studying Pre-Med.

AVID is most grateful to Sly, Kathryn, Julianna, Julianne and Ronald for sharing what the responsibilities of college entails, how to persevere and ask for help, the importance to pursue your happiness and that college is within their grasp!

Resilience in the Face of Dispersion – Jack Slania ’21

I began the process of joining the CBL intern team at one of the most uncertain points in my four years at Holy Cross. It was March 2020, and I had just returned home from my study abroad program in Florence, Italy after only 8 weeks, devastated by the termination of an experience that I had put so much thought and energy into. Yet, what was even more devastating than my last walk through the city or my last gelato were the people I left behind and the impending tragedy the country was about to go through with the COVID-19 pandemic. There was my host family, a younger couple and their two adorable girls, Mina and Frida. There were teachers and acquaintances. And among the hardest goodbyes was to the non-profit I worked with for much of my time in the city, named Gli Anelli Mancanti or “The Missing Rings” in English. The organization serves the immigrant and refugee community in Florence by providing a variety of essential services, such as legal aid, assistance with immigration documents, and most prominently, lessons in many different world languages. My time teaching advanced English there (albeit short) was among the most defining experiences of my time abroad and at Holy Cross. 

Therefore, when I returned and had the opportunity to apply for the CBL intern program, I went into the process keeping in mind the amazing engagement experience I had just left behind in Florence. It was difficult to anticipate what CBL would look like on the Hill this semester, but to become further involved with the program after the experience I had in Florence was something I was quite excited about. 

It was not long after that things in our country and world started to turn pretty grim. Back in Florence and the rest of Italy, the pandemic ravaged the country and its people, leaving a normally warm and vibrant society locked-up and in fear. Soon after, we here in the United States began experiencing our own shocking devastation with the pandemic, something that we sadly don’t seem to have overcome seven months later. Even today when looking at shuttered businesses, children falling behind during remote learning, or entire generations of family members no longer in our lives, it’s difficult to see anything going on in our nation without noticing millions of people suffering. And when trapped at home for the safety of ourselves and others, it can feel incredibly overwhelming and frustrating that we cannot be out in our communities helping those in need. 

This is precisely how I felt in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, when the racial injustice that had been so incredibly exacerbated by the pandemic came face-to-face with a horrifying display of police brutality on an innocent Black man. I wanted more than anything to channel my energy into tangible action, but again, it is so hard to make the decision between active involvement in our communities and the health and safety of ourselves and our loved ones. 

With the decision to go entirely remote this semester, I, like many of our classmates, was incredibly worried about what this might mean for our campus community and student body. My time serving and engaging with our community partners in Worcester has left me with a profound appreciation for the city. I do not believe that I’d be anywhere near the same student or individual if it weren’t for the opportunities I’ve had to get off of the Hill and into the city and community. It is precisely this missing piece of our remote semester that brought me the most anxiety as we began to plan for CBL. Moreover, with this being without a doubt the most crucial moment for those in need during my four years at Holy Cross, I was concerned about the ability of our student body to assist our community partners during this time.

I am happy to say two months into this semester that the CBL program has reignited a drive for justice and service in me that was severely lacking over the much of the spring and summer. This started with the spectacular Civitas Community Engagement and Leadership Institute, a multi-week program at the end of the summer that gave me the opportunity to lead a group of classmates in discussing and learning about the most pressing social justice issues of our current moment. Furthermore, the program gave us the resources to connect with remote engagement opportunities, bringing a typical community service component into the remote semesters of many of our students. I am currently executing this myself by serving in my CBL intern role as co-coordinator of an Italian language circle through the Worcester Public Library. This has given myself and other Italian language students the opportunity to meet and connect virtually with Italian-speaking members of the community. Likewise, I am currently interning with the United Way of Central Massachusetts, serving both remotely and in-person to execute the crucial community service projects they have planned this fall. Most recently, I have begun a second session of leading a Civitas group, this time meeting weekly with Montserrat students to discuss social justice and engagement in our campus community. Most of all, the time spent connecting with one another to discuss the reality of our current situation has provided me with more peace of mind in the face of dispersion. With so many students eager to learn more about social justice and engagement even while we are not all in the same setting has left me incredibly hopeful that a community like Holy Cross that thrives on the mission of being “men and women for and with others” can survive a pandemic and dispersion. 

Most of all, the energy I have seen around civic engagement, one of the core tenets of Civitas, has provided me with the greatest source of hope during this semester. During my own time volunteering and working on the campaign trail this summer and fall, I have seen an unprecedented amount of involvement by members of our generation to get involved with politics, many for the first time in their lives. It is incredible to see so many of our classmates educating themselves on voting, not just for the president but for down-ballot candidates and initiatives. If there is one thing that has acted as my greatest source of resilience in the face of dispersion, it is the knowledge that we as Holy Cross students will not be complicit in the social ills highlighted this summer. We will continue to work together to make the world a better and more equal place for all.

Goals for Community Engagement in Dispersion – Julianne Esteves ’22

Personally, the usual transition from the summer to the fall semester at Holy Cross has brought about a mix of nerves, excitement, and nostalgia. I would feel nervous as I began challenging courses, excited to reunite the Holy Cross community, and nostalgic to confront the reality that a summer filled with longer days, beautiful weather, and family time has come to an end. The transition from Summer 2020 to Fall 2020 was no exception for these feelings. I found that these feelings were actually magnified, and feelings of sorrow, disappointment, and loneliness surfaced once I found out that I would be remote for the semester. As a Community-Based Learning (CBL) Intern, my proximity to Worcester and my fellow classmates is vitally important, yet would not be possible this semester in the customary ways. Despite having some negative feelings about this different format, I quickly realized that I could not let uncertainties and things beyond my control dictate how I would be present during this distinct semester. I understand that my time at Holy Cross is limited, so I could not let this semester mean any less than the other semesters I have had on campus. In this reflection, I outline some of the goals and hopes I have as I begin my community engagement experiences.  

I was extremely happy to find out that many of the CBL courses would be offered this semester, which meant that virtual classroom reflection sessions would occur and many of the other opportunities within the Donelan Office would be offered. The brand-new Civitas website has been a vital source in helping me find ways to remain active in the Worcester community as well as in my hometown. I encourage current students to check out the Civitas website for ways that they can volunteer or participate in other programs through the Donelan Office.  

Typically, I have volunteered at a different CBL site each semester since I have wanted to learn about as many organizations in Worcester and the various populations of people with whom they are working. For this semester, I am excited to connect with Girl’s CHOICE, a tutoring and mentorship program designed to empower at-risk middle and high school girls to achieve their aspirations. While I may be assisting them with their daily homework assignments, I wish to go beyond this work to form a lasting connection by finding common interests between us and participating in fun activities together. I want to be particularly attentive to and intentional with the girls’ time because I realize that most of their days will be spent at home, on their screens. Thus, I am eager to find other creative ways to build this relationship. There are numerous online games that we could play together, or perhaps we could have our own mini-book club centered around girl’s empowerment to read and reflect upon together. I have a fond love of cooking and baking, so I would love to do a virtual cooking demonstration in which my mentee and I could create something together and share cooking tips and tricks along the way. I am looking forward to our conversations together that could provide both me and the girls with hope during this extremely difficult time. 

Beyond Girl’s CHOICE, I am eager to take advantage of the numerous other opportunities within the Donelan Office, the Office for Multicultural Education, and the Chaplains’ Office. Often when I am on campus, I can only devote time to one community partner, and my days are quickly filled with coursework, meetings, and extracurriculars. However, now with some newfound time being at home, I would like to participate in a new array of programs or other activities organized by numerous communities. For example, I would love to participate in a virtual 10,000 step challenge hosted by the Nativity School of Worcester. It is important to realize that many of these organizations are serving communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and perhaps now is the time I apply for a Marshall Grant to be able to support an organization that needs additional resources to help them through this transition. 

As students learning how to be people for and with others, it is our responsibility to answer that call now more than ever. Fulfilling that call might take some hard work, some discomfort, or even some mistakes. But, I hope that beyond those feelings of doubt or discomfort, meaningful relationships, small moments of joy, and a hope-filled attitude may arise. As I move forward with the rest of the semester and begin my community engagement, I hold on to this quote by Joan Chittister, OSB: “A life of value is not a series of great things well done; it is a series of small things consciously done.” 

“Community Engagement in Amman, Jordan,” Emma Davison ’21

Despite months of planning and my seemingly confident disposition at the time, my heart was racing as my plane landed in Jordan this past fall. The uncertainty of what was to come was both invigorating and terrifying. Seeking a greater sense of calm, I found comfort in gratitude as I recognized that the opportunities I sought for so long were suddenly the moments I was living. 

My life in the Shmeisani neighborhood of Amman stood in what felt like complete contrast to my home life. A different language, different food, different media, different traditions. The unfamiliarity of my surroundings complimented my curious nature and I was filled with questions. As my fascinations mounted, I became acutely aware of how brief my time in Amman would truly be. A semester in this country would in no way make every intricacy of the culture clear, and so I sought relationships and experiences that would extend beyond my limited time. 

Jordanians are welcoming to a degree I have never experienced. It seemed as though every friend of my host family, shop owner, taxi driver, or stranger sitting across from me in the University cafeteria so quickly offered to host me for maqluba (a traditional dish that I never grew tired of). Invitations were sincere and always followed up on until I found myself at someone new’s dinner table, a new friend to endure my many questions. One friendship I am particularly grateful for is the one I made through the community engagement component of my program. After deciding to be an English language tutor for a student at the University of Jordan, I was partnered with Heba Fawwaz. 

Heba lives in a neighborhood of Amman that is walking distance from the one I stayed in. She is twenty-one as well, the oldest of eight children, and responsible for everything I know about pop culture in Jordan. My community engagement activity was deeply reciprocal; I helped Heba with her English coursework and she corrected the countless Arabic grammar mistakes I would make in my explanations. The two of us hit it off and began finding time to meet outside of our scheduled two-hour lessons. I met Heba’s friends, we explored parts of the city I had yet to uncover, and she invited me into her home to meet her many siblings on a night she was tasked with babysitting. Each time we met I had endless new questions about her life in Amman, and she matched my curiosity with questions about America. Her main outlet into American culture prior to our friendship, I found, was watching the show Friends in secret (her father didn’t approve of its content). 

Heba and I live quite different realities and hold different beliefs on a number of things. At the same time, we were both twenty-one-year-old girls living in the same city for this brief semester. The opportunity to build a friendship such as ours was rare and we worked to understand one another and revel in what made us different. We traded family recipes, favorite movies, and fashion advice. She would ask about the different braids I wore in my hair and I would ask about each new patterned fabric of her hijab. We often discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as Heba’s family is ethnically Palestinian, and I got a deeper look into the complexity of the relgious and cultural implications of the situation. She asked me about Christianity, and I was able to explain what the Jesuit tradition has meant in my life. 

My friendship with Heba is something that lasts beyond my semester abroad. I believe experiential learning should be cyclical and reciprocal: I approached our friendship knowing all I was taught in the Community Based Learning office, in Pax Christi meetings, and in Holy Cross courses. I, now, carry all that I experienced through my new friendship with me and am able to bring this experience back to Holy Cross. Heba’s and my shared love for hearing about the other’s lived experiences made our friendship so full and, in turn, we each have an entirely new understanding of what it means to be a twenty-one year old girl today.