As we embark on a new year and a new volume of our Digest, it seemed appropriate for us to take some time to reflect on the past year, where we have been and what we have learned - as well as ponder what the future holds.
To give us some insight, we have dedicated this issue to reflections from students, past and present, about their motivations and service experiences. We're confident they will provide some spark to continue building the bridge between learning and community.
Why I Serve
by Bethany Racicot, UMass Dartmouth Senior,
AmeriCorps Leader in Service, Habitat for Humanity Club President
I remember my father taking my sister and me along while he volunteered, ever since I was young, whether it be for an affordable housing committee or an environmental cleanup in the city in which he worked. My father taught me that volunteering is a normal and important contribution to communities. Learning this at a young age significantly impacted my views of the world. As I got older, I realized that human beings have a responsibility to help one another. It is through the support of others that society not only exists, but thrives and flourishes as well. It was the internalization of this basic human emotion of caring that gave me my beginning in civic engagement. The experiences and lessons learned since then have been the reinforcements that have kept me volunteering over the years.
My volunteering experiences have always been positive and rewarding. I have met some of the most amazing and genuine people, several of whom have become my lifelong friends. I have learned skills and knowledge that I would never have learned otherwise. I can proudly say I now know how to use tools and power tools to put up siding and roofing on a house. I can also say that I better understand, from firsthand experience, the struggles inner city schools face in the wake of the recession. Moreover, I have learned things about myself that no amount of class time could teach me. I was surprised to learn that spending time tutoring a seven year-old boy quickly became my favorite part of the week.
Currently, I serve the South Coast community as an AmeriCorps Leader in Service and I serve UMass Dartmouth as the president of our campus' Habitat for Humanity club. I do these things because it gives me a chance to volunteer and give other students the opportunity to volunteer and gain their own experiences. Nothing feels greater than the sense of helping others and being able to pass that feeling on to someone else.
Being a "Ripple of Hope"
by Deb Dorcelus, UMass Dartmouth Junior,
AmeriCorps Leader in Service
"Each time a person stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others... he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope"- Robert F. Kennedy
Often I am asked why I do community service, especially since it is not a requirement for college. My reply is always the same, "Why not?"
Community service has had a profound impact on me, for as long as I can remember, ever since I started volunteering. The act of service to me is more than the great feeling you get after helping someone in need; it has become a way of life. The above quote from the late Robert F. Kennedy is the perfect summation of why I am always ready to do community service - that "tiny ripple of hope" that is created whenever anyone does community service is the start of many positive reactions. For example, during my first year at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, I decided to take part in the America Reads program. The mission of America Reads is to promote literacy within K through 12. I was assigned to a class where I helped the teacher with whatever she needed and read with the children in her class. After a couple of weeks working there, I had to stop for a while because I was injured. However, when I returned to the school, I was welcomed back with several cards by theses students. I felt so appreciated! Before returning to the school, I thought what I was doing meant nothing, but it did. The teacher later told me that the cards weren't her idea, but the students'.
I am extremely proud to be an individual who "sends forth a tiny ripple of hope" every time I volunteer.
Interning at Fall River City Hall: A Public Service Experience
by Gabriel DeSouza, UMass Dartmouth Junior
How can you talk about an experience in which you grew more than you can ever imagine? As a recipient of the Michael S. Dukakis Public Service Internship, I was blessed with the opportunity to intern in the office of Neighborhood Outreach, under Mayor William A. Flanagan's administration. My main project during my tenure there was working on an energy challenge for the City of Fall River. It is now known as the Fall River Neighborhood Energy Contest. This reflection will be my attempt to sum up my internship experience.
First and foremost, I have to say I was only able to have this amazing opportunity because of the Leduc Center, Governor Michael Dukakis, and his dedication to rekindling the spirit of public service in the youth of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The goal of the internship is to bring about optimism, enthusiasm, and hope, and give students encouragement to consider pursuing careers of public service. This internship did that for me; it gave me a chance to view a public service career hands-on and up close and personal. It was an amazing experience. I learned that many people only view one side of a career in municipal government or there is a negative stereotype with municipal government jobs. Working at Government Center, I could see first hand that the Mayor and his administration's main concern was the well-being of the residents of Fall River.
Truthfully, I would not be as successful in my internship, if not for the help of Perry Long. Perry is Fall River's Neighborhood Outreach Coordinator. He reports directly to the Mayor and is part of the Community Development Agency. His main job is to help residents with whatever concerns, troubles, or issues they may have, and sometimes that requires him to wear many hats. With the mayor, he is responsible for developing initiatives that benefit the City. For instance, his office oversees the Building Blocks initiative, a plan for rehabilitating or destroying/replacing abandoned properties to benefit the community. An example of their work involves a demolition last month, where the abandoned property will be used to plant an urban tree farm. His office, along with the utility companies of Fall River, New England Gas Company and National Grid, also oversees the project I worked on during the fall semester: the Fall River Neighborhood Energy Contest.
One of the biggest skills I learned was project management. It is not easy to manage a project of City-wide scale because there are so many factors involved. It is much more complex than school projects. Another important skill I cultivated was handling meetings. Lastly, a skill that really will help me in the future is the ability to work with a variety of organizations, producing ideas, and coordinating between these organizations to facilitate development or discussion of a project. It is amazing to see this contest change from a concept into a real, tangible initiative. With the help of the Mayor's office, New England Gas Company, and National Grid, we were all able to develop a project that we can be proud of and that will be beneficial to the City.
I am so grateful for the Leduc Center for helping me find this great internship. Truthfully I did not know what to expect. I heard testimonials from peers that the Fall River City Hall was a great internship location, but like all new experiences, I was just nervous. Gladly, all my expectations were met and exceeded. This past semester I experienced what a real-world work environment was like in municipal government. It is a great feeling to see 15 weeks worth of work come to life. By the way, the Fall River Neighborhood Energy Contest opened on January 5th, 2013.
Cultivating the Seeds of Service
by Wiktor Tomkiewicz, UMass Dartmouth Junior
Progressing through my studies as a civil engineer, I hope to become an asset to the community, and not simply take advantage of the opportunities for self-gain. Through tutoring at the Science and Engineering Center, volunteering in service projects throughout the community, and increasing my own understanding of the civil engineering world, I have made strides to not only further develop myself, but to also improve the livelihood of my community and those around me.
Over the last year, I have noticed that community engagement is an aspect that we tend to neglect. In a country where many of our values are based on personal gain, it is easy to forget about the big picture. We push for a better life for ourselves, but forget that one of the greatest parts of our living environments is our community; it has to be fostered and maintained, so it doesn't fall apart.
This year, I began looking into volunteer opportunities in the area. I came across a flyer at the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement, asking for volunteers to work on a farm at the YMCA in Dartmouth. This farm donates 100% of its crops to food banks in the surrounding area. Since starting in September, I looked forward to the Wednesday 2 O'clock Dart-Van Shuttle that would take us volunteers to work at the farm. I have grown a relationship with the farm leader, Dan, and have started going to the farm on weekends to perform duties on my own-without his supervision. Working on the farm helps me learn about the practices of planting and harvesting crops, and lets me become part of a team that makes a difference in the community.
Recently, I have undertaken another volunteering project teaching English to ESL students. As our nation's population grows in diversity, there are countless numbers of people who have yet to grasp the English language. Many conservatives see no place for immigrants in the United States. If this were the case, then I would not be living in this great country. Within the faces of the ESL students, I see the faces of my father and mother, who, when they brought my sisters and me from Poland in 1993, knew minimal English. If he hadn't taken ESL courses, my father would find it very difficult to communicate with Americans. My sympathy goes out to those trying to learn English, and I hope that I can make learning the English language easier for them.
The future holds a number of paths that I could follow. I would really like to join the Peace Corps after I am finished with my Bachelor's degree. The projects are interesting, and it obviously is in service to others. Upon completion of the Peace Corps, I want to pursue a Master's degree in Engineering. Finally, getting a job in the engineering field would be fantastic. The future is not definite, of course, but I know that ahead of me lies opportunities to be of service to others. If I ever stray and become lost, I will look to the words of the famous Mahatma Gandhi, who once said, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
by Jarrad Plante, UMass Dartmouth Alumnus
"Get involved - you will get out of college what you put into it!" That was the most meaningful advice I received when entering college. I was the first person in my immediate or extended family to attend and live at a four-year school and I wanted to take full advantage of everything that was offered to students. My first year college experience paved the way for the rest of my college career at UMass Dartmouth.
I began as a tutor at the Writing/Reading Center assisting College Now, a program where students enter the university from an underperforming school and/or have a poor academic record. Students are enrolled in remedial courses prior to matriculation into traditional college-level courses. I worked to develop those students academically and helped prepare them to make the important transition into the mainstream college experience. As a conversation partner, I met with international students and supported them with their English speaking, reading, and writing skills, and I helped them with the cultural transition and social skills. Through Residential Life, I worked as a Resident Assistant in the freshmen dorms, helping students adjust to living away from home and creating fun, educational, and themed programs for my residents to enjoy. I also helped coordinate a team of 12 students in an alternative spring break trip to Alabama with Habitat for Humanity. I participated in Intramural Softball all four years and was co-manager and co-captain the latter three years. Finally, I became a member and was later elected President of Golden Key International Honor Society. Our class participated in numerous community service projects with other groups on campus to benefit the local community.
I have a passion for diverse experiences, and upon graduating from college, I joined AmeriCorps*NCCC, committing my next ten months to national service. Our team partnered with various nonprofit organizations across the Southeast region of the United States, providing direct service to communities in need and indirectly expanding our outlook and understanding of the beauty and challenges within our own country. Being from a more liberal part of the country and working in a more conservative school district in South Carolina during an education project, I especially enjoyed the interactions I had with the students - challenging their perceptions on social topics and experiencing the students testing my perceptions and ideals.
Following AmeriCorps*NCCC, I excitedly accepted the opportunity to work as a District Executive for the Boy Scouts of America, for four years, and in the very same council where I grew up and earned my Eagle Scout. Working for the Boy Scouts was an incredibly educational and rewarding experience personally and professionally, but I found myself thinking once again about how inspired I am when working directly in educational settings. I had such a well-rounded experience as an undergraduate student at UMASS Dartmouth that I wanted to continue my education there. I said goodbye to my post as Senior District Executive at Annawon Council and returned to school full time for my Master's Degree in Public Policy. During my two years in graduate level studies, I had an assistantship working in the Leduc Center for Civic Engagement with the LEADS program - Leadership for Educational Attainment Developed through Service. Each of the two years, I trained and managed 7 undergraduate and graduate students who, in turn, taught leadership skills and the importance of educational attainment through service-learning projects to middle and high school students in two diverse, struggling post-industrial cities: Fall River and New Bedford. The corps members and students of the program even received a special commendation from Governor Deval Patrick for the two food pantries we created in two of our middle schools' basements during our semester-long Hunger and Homelessness service-learning project.
It was during this time that I was selected to be a student representative for the Chancellor's Review Board to provide feedback about my experience attending the same school as both an undergraduate and graduate student. In the academic realm, I drummed up interest with my cohort and helped create the Public Policy Student Association and was elected Vice President during its founding year. Finally, last summer, I was approached by Bristol Community College to be an Adjunct Professor for CED 101: Work-based Experience, where I developed a syllabus, taught classes, and assessed student progress. There are three awards that I humbly received during my tenure at UMASS Dartmouth. Upon graduating as an undergraduate, I was UMASS Dartmouth's Student of the Year and was also awarded the Educational Leadership for Civic Responsibility Award, and upon graduating with my Master's from UMASS Dartmouth, I was presented with the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education 29 Who Shine Award. I was nominated for these awards because of my love for learning, school activity, and my dedication to serving as a change agent in my community.
Shortly after graduating again from UMD, my wife, who was the Deputy Director for City Year Rhode Island, got called to serve as Start-up Director and eventually Executive Director for City Year's newest site in Orlando, Florida. As she was transitioning into her new position, I decided to volunteer my time to work with City Year Orlando and help wherever I could in all of the departments, and dubbed myself their Operations Consultant as I was taking online classes to become a certified nonprofit professional.
I decided to continue on with my studies and apply for a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership for Higher Education. I am currently working on an EdD at the University of Central Florida, the second largest public institution in the country. As I was preparing for my first semester as a doctoral student, I was realizing that I was in a new town, new school, new program - how was I going to meet people and connect in a social and professional way? I reflected back to my days as an undergrad and it dawned on me that the answer was to get involved. Shortly after I settled in to taking a full class load, I joined the Student Personnel Association, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA), and the Education Student College Council, as well as became a southeast regional representative for the AmeriCorps*NCCC alumni council. I have continued helping City Year Orlando and have made connections in many disciplines in order to help recruit as a Campus Recruitment Ambassador that has not only helped City Year Orlando recruit new corps members, but it has allowed me the opportunity to meet administrators and faculty members I would not otherwise have interacted with creating and maintaining relationships for myself and the organization.
I am not sure what I will do next once I finish my doctorate degree, but getting involved has led me down an amazing trail of serving on committees, coordinating grass roots campaigns, studying policy, building capacity, and creating partnerships and relationships with people and organizations from all over, and has and will continue to open many doors for me socially and professionally.