“Reflecting on my First Year as a CBL Intern” – Catherine Cannamela ’24

It’s hard to believe that an entire school year has gone by on Mt. St. James! As I reflect on my sophomore year of college, which has been full of new friends, experiences, and discoveries, I think that being a part of the CBL Intern Program has been a monumental and formative part of my journey at Holy Cross. I remember moving into school in August and being nervous to meet the other interns and what being an intern would actually entail, but all of that anxiety went away as I was welcomed with open arms by Isabelle, Mattie, and the rest of the CBL Interns. Since then, I’ve made friendships with my fellow interns that will last a lifetime and memories at my CBL sites that I will hold onto forever.

During my first semester, I was fortunate enough to be enrolled in a CBL course focused on Latin-American culture. For my CBL component, I chose to volunteer with Ascentria Care Alliance, where I tutored unaccompanied refugee minors from various locations in Central and Latin America. I was originally very nervous to tutor native Spanish-speaking students because I’m not super confident with my language skills and I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to fully communicate with the students and help them. Though the language barrier and the virtual format of our site was challenging, I felt like I overcame my anxiety once I was able to spend one-on-one time with the students and be able to help them with their individual needs. It was a very rewarding and mutualistic experience to be able to help the students learn English while they were helping me learn Spanish. I feel like I was able to reflect on my privilege of having English as my first language, and my eyes were opened up to social justice issues within the education system since the students at Ascentria were forced to learn and socialize in English and didn’t receive adequate learning resources for the language. I also was able to apply what I was experiencing at CBL to what I was learning in the classroom. Much of our class centered on social justice issues and history of Latin American countries as well as the traumatic and difficult experience of migration to the United States. Therefore, I was able to approach my interactions with Ascentria students with an approach of knowledge, care, and sensitivity, which allowed me to form lasting connections with them. 

During my second semester, I wasn’t in a CBL class so I had completely free choice of where I wanted to volunteer for the first time! I chose to work with the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program where I spent time and led activities with 18-22 year old students with intellectual disabilities. Ever since I took my Montserrat class called “Identity, Diversity, and Community” with Professor Ryan, I’ve developed a passion for disability studies, so I was very excited to explore that through CBL. I volunteered on Thursdays, which was the Spanish-speaking students day, so again I was a little nervous to use my Spanish-speaking skills. However, the students and assistants were so welcoming and understanding and I immediately felt comfortable around them. I was really excited to utilize the Marshall Fund for the first time and saw my ideas come to life when we all participated in a bracelet making project. My favorite part of the semester was getting to know the students and all of their personalities and stories. For one of my classes, I wrote a reflection on the story of Jesus healing a man with a withered hand in the Gospel of Matthew and I related it to my personal life by connecting it to my CBL experiences. Here’s an excerpt from that paper: 

Every Thursday, I spend two hours with Spanish-speaking eighteen to twenty-two year old students with intellectual or developmental disabilities, who have a large range in their functioning and verbal communication. Because of the pandemic, the students come to Holy Cross and I usually partake in some kind of game or activity with them and then we eat lunch in Crossroads and play a game of pool. At Crossroads, I am often struck when I observe how Holy Cross students typically react when they see the WPS students eating lunch at their school – with surprise, avoidance, or even snickering. In these moments, I find myself reflecting on my own privilege as an able-bodied student attending a college that has a mostly able-bodied population and does not have a very accessible campus to those with disabilities. Again, I try to channel Jesus’s example in my interactions with the students in hopes that Holy Cross students will view them as equals and draw closer to them instead of backing away. When one of the students, Jahzeel, reaches out for a fistbump as he usually does to everyone in his near vicinity, I stretch my hand out back eagerly, feeling “restored” as I watch the mutual smiles and giggles on our faces (Matthew 12:13). The smiles spread wider when I see Jahzeel stretch his hand out to a Holy Cross student and he doesn’t get ignored as often happens. I watch stretched hands meet and recognition click in the Holy Cross student’s brain that we are all human and want to feel the positivity and belonging we receive in a fist bump. 

Overall, I think what I will take away most from my first year as a CBL Intern are the relationships I made. Whether it was through spending time at my sites, leading class reflections, discussing my CBL experiences with Mattie, Isabelle, and the other interns, I truly feel like CBL has brought me closer to so many people. I’m extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of this program and feel like it is my home on campus and beyond. 

“An Open Letter to Prof. Ginny Ryan” Patrick McQuillen ’23

Patrick wrote this blog post as an open letter to Prof. Ginny Ryan (Montserrat) upon her retirement from Holy Cross in Spring ’22. Patrick was in Prof. Ryan’s CBL Montserrat course in 2019-2020. The CBL Office thanks Prof. Ryan for all that she has done for CBL!

Dear Professor Ryan,

As I sat down to compose this letter in the seasonally overheated stacks of Dinand Library, I had a lot of trouble with finding a proper way to start this letter. Well, I think the proper way to start this letter would be to congratulate you on your retirement at the end of the academic year! It must be an exciting time for you and your loved ones, and I bet you cannot wait for extra family time. To give this letter some context, each intern in the CBL internship program is required to write a blog post during each academic year. Upon hearing about your retirement, I knew I wanted my post to reflect on my impactful time in your class during my first year at Holy Cross.

During the summer prior to my arrival to the Hill, I was notified that I would be enrolled in your Montserrat for the 2020 academic year. “Exploring Difference?” “Did I actually put this class as one of my top choices?” Was one of my initial thoughts as I read through the email from the College. Initially, I didn’t think the class would be the right fit for me. Nonetheless, I showed up to the first class with the mindset that at least my religious studies requirement would be fulfilled by completing the class. Upon my arrival to class on the first day, I sat in the back right corner of the classroom, hoping to avoid awkward small talk with my fellow classmates as I did in high school. Eventually, all of the seats in the classroom were filled, as we all nervously awaited your instruction. As you introduced yourself, and the expectations of the class, I learned that this class was affiliated with the CBL program. “CBL?” “What does that mean for me?” I thought to myself, as the class reviewed the syllabus. When I learned that the program was based on community service, I was hesitant about how service would align with my busy schedule. However, because my parents had served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps after their graduation from the college in 1984, I knew I should keep an open mind about the opportunity to experience something different. Additionally, your enthusiasm when it came to the selection process, and close relationships with Prof. Jenkins and the existing CBL interns certainly enhanced the overall experience for myself. 

In the weeks that followed my decision to volunteer at the Ascentria Care Alliance, I would be challenged both spiritually and intellectually as your carefully prepared lessons tied in my volunteer experience with the class material. The inclusion of materials like Far From The Tree and The Confessions of St. Augustine, changed my perspective on the world around me and helped me process the various unfamiliar situations that I encountered during my weekly trip to the Ascentria Care Alliance. The service aspect of the course also had a positive impact on the classroom environment. Because you encouraged openness within class discussions, I felt that my classmates were able to bond over shared experiences that were especially notable from prior service experiences throughout the semester. Quickly, the nervously quiet classroom environment became a community unlike any other at Holy Cross. As your infectious compassion influenced conversation between me and my classmates, we began to have compelling conversations about race and privilege within contemporary society. These discussions helped my classmates and myself gain the confidence to speak on topics that many previously considered to be too uncomfortable to discuss with others. By helping me find comfort in discomfort, you taught me how kindness and open mindedness can be used to bring familiarity to unfamiliar situations.

Though the academic year was quite meaningful, my most vivid memory from the class came the day after the College announced that they would be sending students home for the remainder of the 2020 academic year due to the onset of the COVID pandemic. The morning after the announcement, everyone in the class promptly showed up as usual. Clearly, many students in the class were distraught about the announcement. Instead of proceeding with class as usual, you opened up the floor to us to ask questions about what was going on. At the end of our question asking session, you said that we were all free to leave class early because it didn’t make sense to cover any class material during such a turbulent time. Instead of getting up and moving towards the door, every student in the classroom remained seated. Silently, we all sat next to each other and found comfort in each other’s presence. At this moment, I recognized the community that had formed within the classroom. It was clear that none of us knew what was going to happen in the coming days, but that was okay because we could all rely on each other for support. It certainly takes a special instructor who values the holistic development of students, to create an environment like the one that had developed during my freshman year.

Within the weeks that followed our evacuation from campus in the spring of 2020, I was thankfully accepted into the CBL internship program. As a student who arrived on campus without prior knowledge of CBL, it is safe to say that your instruction had a significant impact on my decision to apply for this program. Throughout the course of the year during my freshman year, you gave the class an opportunity to engage in reflection with interns from the CBL internship program. During these reflections, I became aware of my compassion for social justice, and learned the importance of reflection. As a result of these discussions and your encouragement, I gained the confidence to share about my own experiences within the larger class group. By sharing my experiences with my classmates within a large group, I quickly became comfortable with leading conversations, which is a skill that I rely on as a student leader within the Holy Cross community. 

It’s safe to say that my story is not unique. In fact, there are many other interns that share similar experiences to mine. Year in and year out, a significant amount of students apply for the CBL internship program from your class. This is obviously not a coincidence. As a result of your willingness to challenge students intellectually and spiritually, your students develop into responsible citizens that positively influence their community. I would like to especially thank you for challenging myself, and changing the trajectory of my college experience. Enjoy retirement!


Patrick McQuillen

“New Passions and New Beginnings” – Rachel Enad ’22

Over the past four years I have had a lot of time to reflect on the realities of my surroundings. Being a part of the Holy Cross community and the Worcester community has taught me many things. It is heartwarming and easy to name an endless amount of memories that ground me in my love for Worcester. Things that were once so new and a bit scary, are now things that feel familiar and comfortable four years later. As you may have guessed, community-based learning has contributed to my love for Worcester, and has given me numerous opportunities to not only explore my passions, but has also fostered my personal growth as a student and a Worcester community member. Although I am thankful to look back at these sweet moments, my reality at Holy Cross and in Worcester are not the realities of everyone. Participating in CBL has taught me that. It has been genuinely eye-opening to reflect on three CBL experiences of mine that have awakened new passions in me and have inspired new beginnings. 

It seems all too recently that I was volunteering at Worcester East Middle School as my CBL placement for Spanish 301. Having previously volunteered at different school programs before, I had an interest in further exploring education-based service experiences. At Worcester East I tutored native Spanish speaking students, most of whom were recent immigrants to the United States. I was stunned when I came to find that besides the two hour weekly block that I volunteered, the students had no other resources to assist them with the language barrier. No language programs, no Spanish speaking teachers, no assistance. I couldn’t possibly imagine going to school for eight hours a day not understanding anything that was being said or taught to me, let alone at the young age of nine or ten. Wake up call number one: the reality is that there are deep educational inequities in the world. Although this reality was hard to see, I found it to be a pivotal point in sparking my passion for education. Academically and service-wise, I found myself reflecting on my own education realities and feeling eager to somehow pursue this social justice issue further. I soon declared the education minor, and found myself looking forward to other CBL courses that offered placement sites at schools or with kids. And now, a senior heading into my last month of college, I am finding myself exploring careers in education policy, and education based nonprofit work. 

As overwhelming as this last semester of college has been, it was hard not to take on every unique opportunity that came my way. In a combination of fear that I didn’t know what I was going to pursue post-grad, and a budding love for education and non-profit work, I applied to participate in the Non-profit Careers Conference, taking place the last week of winter break. I had been involved with non-profit organizations before, through volunteer experiences in high school, CBL courses at Holy Cross, and academic curriculum, but this was my first time engaging with non-profit work as an exploration of potential career paths. It was exciting for me to have the opportunity to work in collaboration with a local Worcester non-profit (The Mustard Seed), and equally exciting for me to also use this conference as a way to enhance the plethora of learning experiences I had been gaining during my first semester of being a part of the Donelan Office as a CBL intern. NPCC introduced me to my second wake up call: food insecurity. I am extremely fortunate to live in a reality where food insecurity is not something I have to think about. But it is the reality for many in Worcester. NPCC opened my eyes to a second social justice issue I am passionate about, and taught me the importance of commitment, the power of deep seeded care for others, reflection, and confidence in oneself. 

After these experiences, I had to ask myself, what do I do now? My passions were clear, my career goals were getting clearer, and I had one last semester to make the most of my Holy Cross education. Taking a course called “Seeking Justice” sounded like the right way to go. This course has provided me with the space to turn my passions into new realities and reflect on my academic and personal growth over the past four years. To see this come to fruition through my CBL project for the course, has given me confidence in my abilities to lay the course of my next couple of years. On April 20, 2022 my fellow “Seeking Justice” classmate, Molly and I put on a panel discussion on food security in Worcester and beyond. After months of planning and organizing we were both proud and excited to share with the Holy Cross and Worcester community our devotion to educating people on the issue of food insecurity and how we can all be active and intentional in navigating the best ways to target this issue through both charity and justice. I was able to collaborate again with familiar organizations such as the Mustard Seed (with whom I had worked with during NPCC) and new organizations like Project Bread and the Worcester County Food Bank. The panel was a success, and was an amazing close to cementing my identities as a Holy Cross student and a Worcester community member. I am excited to use these experiences as the foundation for a new beginning following graduation and am forever grateful for the Donelan office of Community-Based Learning for being a light of guidance along the way.

“Reflections on a Year in the CBL Intern Program,” Alison Maloney ‘23

My experience with the CBL Intern Program began nearly one year ago. Looking back on the past year as an intern, I am so grateful for all the experiences this opportunity has provided me. Since my acceptance into the program, I have had the chance to meet so many wonderful people within the Holy Cross and Worcester communities. From my involvement at Holy Cross through the program, it has been a sincere joy to get to know members of the Donelan Office and the J.D. Power Center. Through reflection sessions, interviews for the J.D. Power Center newsletter, and office hours, I’ve been able to connect with so many different students, faculty, and staff members. Conversations with all these individuals have taught me so much more about community engagement, other student organizations, and Holy Cross as a whole. It also has been truly fulfilling working with a community partner site as well. Every Tuesday morning, I visit St. Mary Health Care Center where I get to chat with elderly residents and participate in their morning activities. I had not been able to visit a site for community engagement since 2020 so getting back to this weekly practice has been very special to me.

Amidst all these wonderful developments this year, it still seems like yesterday that I was applying to be an intern. I can remember filling out my application with so much excitement last spring. After the fall semester at home in 2020, I realized how important participating in a community was for me. I really had missed meeting new people, learning about others, and working together with peers. At that time, I also recalled how much I enjoyed working with the interns in Professor Ryan’s Montserrat course, “Identity, Diversity, and Community.” The interns really had a positive impact on my class and our learning—whether it was through their reflection sessions or office hours, they really helped us to embrace the process of learning both in class and at our CBL sites. These prospects of being able to participate in this process of education and engaging with others, as well as the chance to join a new community on campus, really motivated me to apply to be an intern.

I still can remember the mixture of nerves I had the day of the interview. Interviews were conducted online last year over Zoom, and I recall fidgeting at my desk in front of my computer as my interview time approached. While I had prepared all I wanted to discuss, studied the program itself, and even formulated possible questions to ask, I still felt a bit worried about how the interview would go. These worries gradually subsided a little after the interview began. Everyone on the call was so welcoming and friendly, and I soon found myself talking about my experiences and qualifications for the program with ease. I felt so grateful for the amount of preparation the interns did for the interview as well as their ability to make me feel comfortable. From the very beginning, even this early in the process, I felt truly welcomed by the CBL interns. Such a welcome only continued upon my acceptance as an intern and into my junior year—making intern training and further engagement with the rest of the Donelan Office even more special.

The interview stage of CBL intern selection begins again for this year. I am excited to see this side of the interview process and to hear about other students’ experiences. I really look forward to extending this same tradition of welcome to all candidates now and into next year. Serving as a CBL intern has been such a highlight to my experience at Holy Cross, providing me with practical experience, cherished friendships, and ample opportunities to learn about others and myself. I can’t wait for our future interns to experience this as well in the year to come.

“The Importance of Reflecting and Embracing the Process” – Anthony Mabardy ’24

Reflection is something that may seem unappealing to many at first glance. To some it may seem unnecessary or cringe, to others it may seem to force meaning into things that do not have much of it. During the majority of my first year, I easily fell under this category. Although I understood that the reflection aspect of service was important and was able to participate in related exercises, I never was able to truly find its significance within myself.

Once I became a CBL intern, my job was to lead reflections and other discussions in a plethora of CBL classes. These were mostly Montserrat classes for first-years that were in positions similar to mine just a year ago. Much like my first-year self, many first-years understand that participating in CBL and doing service is good, but have yet to discover how much it can really do for them and for others. The way I discovered this was by embracing the process of reflection.

You may be asking, “How exactly can I ‘embrace the process’ of reflection?” While it may seem straightforward, embracing the process of reflection is something that I always struggled with. Being a discussion leader as a CBL intern I’ve learned the importance of being an active participant in discussions and finding meaningful ways to interpret my experiences as well as learning from the experiences that others may have at their sites. Understanding that you can learn directly from the experiences of others is also key to gaining meaning from reflections. When sharing my experiences, I’ve learned to focus on the impact of stories that I share and less on the actions themselves. Many students go into reflections with the intentions of telling interesting stories or acts of kindness that they performed or someone did for them. While these actions are important, focusing on how these stories made you or someone else feel is how we grow from the reflection process. This is embracing the process. Being able to bring out your emotions to learn about yourself from your service experience as well as how certain actions can impact the lives and feelings of others. By letting our guards down and accessing our true thoughts we are able to reflect more productively on our encounters and mature as humans. That is how we learn from our CBL experiences and how CBL reflections have changed my life for the better.

In my CBL site at the Nativity School of Worcester I have been tutoring middle school students once a week this past school year. At first, I knew that what I was doing was good, but I wasn’t sure why it was beneath the surface. Once I started reflecting on my experiences with others, I found the true meaning in my service. For example, I often draw with some of the students when they finish their homework as opposed to forcing them to do extra math problems. The action itself seemed rather insignificant to me. However, by reflecting on the story, I realized that doing this made the students really happy which in turn brought me joy as well. This is because I was building true connections with the students I was tutoring, which made both them and myself feel part of a greater community and friendship.

Reflecting on my experiences has allowed me to discover why I do service. Being able to reflect has allowed me to find purpose in my life and my everyday activities. While service can seem very surface-level at first, allowing yourself to be vulnerable and express your emotions through reflection can make a once a week experience last a lifetime.

“Ascentria: How To Be A Woman For And With Others” – Fernanda Perez-Alvarez ’24

If you asked me at the beginning of my Spanish 302 class what CBL meant to me, I would not have been able to answer. After a semester spent in Ascentria, I now truly understand what it means to be a woman for and with others. Helping others is not meant to simply be a good feeling for individuals with privileges or something someone does during holiday seasons. Helping others is something implemented in people’s lives. Let me elaborate by going back to my time in high school. 


At my high school, there were required volunteer hours for every student called “Christian Service.” At the time, I had not yet understood how important our service was and how it affected our community. Similarly to Ascentria, I volunteered most of my time at Sacred Heart Nativity School where I would volunteer with young elementary and middle school students. I truly did enjoy tutoring and spending time with these kids, especially considering that they were all first generation students. I loved volunteering my time at a placement where I could relate with the young individuals I was working with. 

Growing up I had never had the opportunity to be in an after school program, where English speaking individuals could help me, but my parents persevered and helped my brother and me through most of our teaching. Although my parents’ native language was Spanish and they did not finish high school, they put their all into helping us navigate the world around us in the U.S. They are part of the reason as to why I understand the need to help our neighbors daily, address social injustices, and even if we do not understand others and their point of view, we still love them as God’s creation. 

As I previously mentioned, I would volunteer through my high school, but I had not yet truly understood why I should help others. To be honest, I used to think it was not important and often thought there were several other people who could have done a much better job than I did at my placements. That doubt and self consciousness followed me all the way up until my fall semester of my first year at Holy Cross when I was introduced to CBL. In my Spanish 302 course, Español Para Hispanohablantes, I was introduced to CBL. Sadly, I was unable to volunteer due to unprecedented issues during COVID-19 pandemic. When I made it to the end of the semester there was a classroom visit where I distinctly remember Dora Calva, facilitating a talk about Ascentria. When she spoke about Ascentria, I remember being moved by the work she was doing, along with some of my classmates that volunteered at this placement. 

That is when it struck me. Volunteering was not just something to do to be a good person or something you do to make up for a wrong you have committed, it is something you do for and with others in order to immerse yourself in a community and understand how your work or volunteering has an impact on those around you. Once CBL applications came out, I knew I wanted to show others the way Dora and the other CBL Interns impacted my view on volunteering. All volunteering is amazing, if you think you are doing a terrible job, you are not. You are putting yourself out there, helping the Worcester community or even other communities. Now as a sophomore and a part of the CBL Intern community, I am able to talk to students and educate them on what CBL means to the Worcester community. I cannot wait to continue my journey with Ascentria and see where it takes me these next few years at Holy Cross.

What Now? by Emily Taylor ‘22

During the last week of winter break, I participated in the annual Non-Profit Careers Conference. I was involved with the planning and facilitation of the NPCC as a CBL Intern, but this was also my first time attending the conference in any capacity. I was already exposed to a lot of the material through my academic program and extracurriculars: I have taken a seminar on nonprofits and government agencies as part of the academic internship program; I have spent nearly four years engaging with the Donelan Office; and I have interned, worked, and volunteered with several non-profit organizations. Despite my previous learning, I am so grateful for my experience with NPCC and for the new, invaluable lessons it taught me about discernment and fulfillment.

As a second-semester senior, I have been feeling overwhelmed as I try to determine what it is that I want to do with the rest of my life. Throughout my time at Holy Cross, everyone reminded me that I still have time to figure out what I want to do – college is meant for intellectual exploration, after all. It felt safe not to know while I was a student, but now that graduation is nearing, I feel extremely vulnerable. It’s unsettling to not have an idea of the future, and the wide-range of potential careers that once felt exciting is now paralyzing. It’s been so difficult to sit with this confusion that, candidly, I’ve been ignoring it; I’ve focused my energy on upcoming deadlines for courses rather than reflecting on ‘far-off’ (but now fast-approaching) opportunities after graduation. 

The NPCC showed me that I am not (and have never been) alone in feeling unsure of what comes next. It is so rare to have a linear path through life – to have known what it is that you want to do from the outset of your education and to continue with it for decades. It is equally rare, according to several of the speakers at the NPCC, to always want to do the same sort of work. There is not just one way to lead a fulfilling life, but in order to live one, you need to continually reflect on which aspects of your current work have brought you the most joy; work will always be work, but it can still excite and inspire you. The position you will hold in ten or twenty years may have little to nothing to do with the courses you are taking now, but as long as you remain open to the world and to your unique gifts, you will find a meaningful way forward. It’s difficult and oftentimes uncomfortable to acknowledge our gifts. In a culture of perfectionism, we often focus on what needs improvement or only consider traits to be gifts if they are marketable. The NPCC provided me with the space to reflect on my gifts and to consider how these traits have shaped my academic and professional interests. I did not leave the conference with any concrete answers about what I will do after graduation, but I feel much more confident in my ability to navigate the upcoming months and years. 

During the conference, Frank Kartheiser ‘88 spoke to us about his decision to leave Holy Cross in the late 60s and begin working as a community organizer during the Vietnam War. He had told himself that he needed to “get a life”, so he founded the Mustard Seed and created a livelihood devoted to social service and action. This sentiment of choosing and purposefully getting a meaningful life has stuck with me since. It is so important to identify what impassions you and to pursue it, and this lesson holds true even if you do not choose a career in the non-profit sector. I highly recommend the NPCC to all Holy Cross students – whether you are a first-year student or are months from graduation, whether you already feel set on working at a non-profit or are feeling just as lost as I have been – there are so many ways to live well and do good, and it is not a one-time choice. This work is not finished once you accept an entry-level job or are ten years into your career. It is critical that we continue to choose to use our gifts to positively impact the world around us, to continue to grow, and to continue to ask: what now?

Just because things hadn’t gone the way I had planned didn’t necessarily mean they had gone wrong. It took me a long time of pulling racks of scorching hot glasses out of the dishwasher, the clouds of steam smoothing everything around me into a perfect field of gray, to understand that writing a novel and living a life are very much the same thing. The secret is finding the balance between going out to get what you want and being open to the thing that actually winds up coming your way. What now is not just a panic-stricken question tossed into a dark unknown. What now can also be our joy. It is a declaration of possibility, of promise, of chance. It acknowledges that our future is open, that we may well do more than anyone expected of us, that at every point in our development we are still striving to grow. There’s a time in our lives when we all crave the answers. It seems terrifying not to know what’s coming next. But there is another time, a better time, when we see our lives as a series of choices… It’s up to you to choose a life that will keep expanding. It takes discipline to remain curious; it takes work to be open to the world—but oh my friends, what noble and glorious work it is.

-Ann Patchett, “What Now?”

“Ascentria’s Rewarding Give and Take Experience: What are we gaining? What are we losing?” – Dora Calva ’22

Being introduced to Community-Based Learning when I was a first-year student became one of my greatest experiences at Holy Cross. My Montserrat, Exploring Differences with Prof. Ryan first introduced me to CBL. Soon enough, I began my journey with Ascentria Unaccompanied Refugees Minors Program. It has now been four years since I started tutoring at Ascentria and three years as a CBL intern with one of my roles as Ascentria’s program coordinator. Each semester, I have gotten to know a different set of students eager to volunteer and participate. From previous years, I have gotten the chance to tutor in person and develop a genuine relationship with some of the students. 

Volunteering at Ascentria has been a rollercoaster with part of my experience over Zoom. At first, it was difficult to adjust to tutoring the students online and even getting the technical aspects of Zoom, however, nothing that’s worthwhile is ever easy. Through my CBL office hours with Isabelle Jenkins, I was able to converse and reflect with her on the challenges over Zoom. Zoom impeded engagement with the students because there were times that the internet would cut off or their audio would not work in the middle of tutoring. I was able to overcome some challenges by reminding them to log out and log back in. If they were able to log back in, I would stay overtime to ensure the student was having as much of the tutoring experience. I tried to connect my Zoom college experiences with the students and express understanding for how hard it must be to be remote.  Through this volunteering experience over Zoom, I gained patience. I have been able to work through the difficulties and become a better mentor for the Holy Cross students. I have also reflected on why my role is needed in the first place. I began to wonder why our educational system is failing my Ascentria students, who are exceptionally intelligent and eager to learn, however, depriving them from the opportunity to grow because of their linguistic status. Ascentria is one of the community partners that Holy Cross has that brings awareness to some of the social justice issues occurring in Worcester, MA. 

Engaging my time and energy at Ascentria was a rewarding experience for me as I was able to learn about the city of Worcester and have a community at Holy Cross. The Donalen Office has been a safe place for me, and I am so grateful for having Isabelle and Mattie. I am also grateful to have gotten the opportunity to know the Holy Cross and Ascentria students, as well as the staff at Ascentria. As a first-generation student with an immigrant background, I see my Latinx role interconnecting with my future career. Being an educated Latinx and a voice for those whose voices are not heard or listened to, it is our duty and responsibility to do everything we can to help students with long-term social justice issues find solutions that are not only on a community level but also on a national level.

“In the end, there is always joy” – Valentina Maza ’23

As the semester comes to an end, the Holy Cross atmosphere is filled with many things. A predominant one is stress for finals and upcoming assignments. But I am a firm believer that there’s beauty and joy in the midst of our student chaos. I found that joy as a freshman when my Social Ethics class introduced me to CBL. When I first came into Holy Cross, I was afraid I wouldn’t connect with my community and who I am; little did I know! I had the fortunate opportunity to volunteer at the Marie Anne Center and work with English Learners. I met people from all over Latin America, mainly from Brazil, who aspired to become fluent in English to achieve the dreams they shared with us.. But beyond the learning portion, it was a moment to reflect and share about who we are and where we come from. We used to always go back to food as one of our main topics of conversation. The students shared about the delicious dishes they have at home and family gatherings. I then understood the deep meaning of our roots and how we can always go back to something as a reminder of our identity, whether that be food, music, language, etc. CBL allowed me to return to a part of mine. Being with the students felt like we were creating our sense of community, a family. 

Almost two years and a pandemic later, I built upon that same sense of community through CBL. This year I am working with the Worcester Public Schools Transition Program twice a week. Our students come from a variety of different backgrounds, from Worcester to the Dominican Republic. While WPS might be a different site from my previous one, there are some essential similarities. For instance, we had an activity led by Professors from the Spanish department to talk about our culture. Some students brought their Puerto Rican flag and others an ingredient from their favorite dish. Other days, students pick songs by their favorite artists and teach us how to dance. Just like at the Marie Anne Center, we continue to learn about each other by sharing our roots and how they have shaped us.

So, what does my Holy Cross atmosphere look like? Certainly stress and nervousness for finals, but it is filled with immeasurable joy. I have had the privilege of learning about the lives of students from Marie Anne Center and WPS. But as I said, this has been different from the usual way we learn in the classroom. Our identities have shined through all of our conversations and activities. I also have to say that gratitude fuels my atmosphere. After COVID, I wasn’t sure what college and life would be like, and I admit that I was afraid about how different CBL would be this time. Although life is not back to normal, I am endlessly grateful that I had the opportunity to do it again, to regain what I thought was a lost sense of community.

“Where do we go from here?” – Morgan Vacca ’23

This semester, I officially began my junior year of college. Even just typing that is scary for me. I have no idea how I suddenly have less than two years to be a student. Though I’ve loved this year so far, the fact that I am now an upperclassman has made me appreciate every moment I have here a little more. Holy Cross helps me to seek discomfort and grow as a person every single day. However, I always worried that once I left Holy Cross, such opportunities for growth wouldn’t be possible anymore.

On December 1st, I had the chance to participate in a Community-Based Learning Dialogue Session called “Where Do We Go From Here? Living a Life of Service and Justice.” At the session, we discussed careers focused on service and justice with three alumni: Theresa Becchi (‘10), the Associate Director at Counterpart International, Jack Chaffee (‘20), an Assistant at L’Arche Jacksonville, and Paulina Martin (‘21), an AmeriCorps Volunteer at Maggie’s Place. It was so interesting to hear about their occupational journeys and perspectives on their time at Holy Cross. 

It’s hard to pick out just a few things that struck me about the session. However, each speaker had so many interesting things to say, and important takeaways they wanted the students to have. Paulina talked about how her year of service has taught her to measure productivity in a more meaningful, qualitative way, and implored students to trust where their gut “tugs” them in navigating life post college. Jack Chaffee also emphasized the idea of trusting your gut, and discussed how engagement with his community was what ultimately gave him clarity on what he wanted to do with his life. Theresa spoke about the benefits of seeking discomfort and being persistent in finding your place. Ultimately, I walked away from this dialogue session still appreciating the fact that I’m a Holy Cross student, but also feeling more optimistic about the days when I’m not anymore. Because of this dialogue session, I understand that as long as I cherish connection with others, step outside of my comfort zone and trust myself and my abilities, I will be able to find meaning and fulfillment in whatever career I choose to pursue.