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Digest: Volume 3, Issue 2
May 2014


UMass Dartmouth to Dedicate the Reverend Dr. Robert P. Lawrence Hall

On the evening of May 29th, the conference hall in Woodland Commons will be dedicated in honor of Reverend Dr. Robert Lawrence, an individual who has served his community in many capacities, including pastor emeritus and former senior minister of the First Congregational Church in Fall River since 1985. A longtime inspirational leader of the SouthCoast civic community for more than six decades, this room will be a visual symbol of and physical testament to the community service work Reverend Lawrence has performed on behalf of his community. It will also be a gathering place for students in service and for faculty and students to reflect upon their engagement. 

Earlier this year, UMass Dartmouth received a  $1.14 million philanthropic gift from an anonymous donor to honor Reverend Lawrence. The gift will provide support for the near-term efforts and long-term goals of the renowned Robert and Jeanne Leduc Center for Civic Engagement at UMass Dartmouth, specifically, enabling the establishment and funding of the Reverend Dr. Robert P. Lawrence Lecture Series, The Reverend Dr. Robert P. Lawrence Civic Engagement Summit, and the Reverend Dr. Robert P. Lawrence Service-Learning Fellows. 

The most exciting aspect is to have Reverend Lawrence directly involved with our faculty and students," said Dr. Matthew Roy, Assistant Provost and Director of the Leduc Center. "His life is a symbol for all as he has used his many gifts to make the world a better place. The impact of this gift will grow geometrically as it instills values of civic responsibility for generations of UMass Dartmouth students."

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UMass Dartmouth Leaders Tour the Community

This article originally appeared in
The Fall River Herald on
April 29 2014
Author: Michael Gagne
Click here for original article 

From high school and college students taking photos that document everyday life in Fall River, to choruses in each level performing a collaborative concert, high school freshmen taking part in college literary discussions, and college students visiting fifth-grade classrooms, the relationship between Fall River schools and the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has grown within the past year. That was the focal point of a presentation given at B.M.C Durfee High School, which was one of the stops of a bus tour through the SouthCoast taken by UMass Dartmouth Chancellor Divina Grossman along with 24 university deans, vice chancellors and department heads on April 29th. 

That tour also stopped at several other locations in New Bedford, Dartmouth and Fall River. After Durfee, the tour stopped at the Marine Museum. It was the second bus trip taken by the group. The first one took place last year, Grossman said. 

"We wanted to have leadership see firsthand the impact of a partnership on students and faculty at Durfee and at UMass Dartmouth," Grossman said. She said the trip also precedes the launch of a new "strategic plan" for the university. Exactly when that plan will be launched is yet to be determined, said John Hoey, spokesman for the university. "They're putting the final touches on it right now," Hoey said. That plan, which seeks to align UMass Dartmouth's academic strengths and mission with the needs of surrounding communities and the commonwealth, had been under development since it was announced in May 2013. 

The audience at Durfee also included the high school's faculty members and students. 

One project tackled by both UMass and Durfee students is a photo documentary series called "Fall River Portraits." It's the result of a collaboration between the students of Durfee art teacher Mark Carvalho and UMass Dartmouth sociology professor Andrea Klimt. A grant provided the cameras. Carvalho provided the expertise in helping students develop "a photographic eye," while Klimt provided knowledge about urban spaces from which discussions could begin. 

The result of that collaboration is captured in a photo exhibit called "Fall River Portraits," which will be on display at the Narrows Center for the Arts from May 10 to 31. The photos capture diverse subjects from local businesses to local culture: a baker taking sweet bread out of an oven; the owner of a local luggage repair shop at work; a young Cambodian boy at prayer; churchgoers leaving Mass; a mechanic, barbers and tattoo artists plying their trades. 

The main aim, according to Klimt, is to "bring students together a little bit more. We're hoping it leads to interesting conversations on how to document urban spaces." Cities like Fall River are "incredibly complicated" and can "get overwhelmed by economic challenges," Klimt said. 

Other speakers spoke of other ongoing collaborations between music students at UMass and Durfee, as well as between English faculty and students. "What she's trying to do is break down barriers," said Durfee principal Paul Marshall of Grossman's visit to Durfee. He noted that previous collaborations between UMass and Durfee have been productive. Many of the signs now seen throughout the building at Durfee, Marshall explained, were the result of a collaboration between students in Durfee's graphic arts department and UMass Dartmouth graduate students.

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UMD Students Ply Their Knowledge to Help the Low-Income Community

This article originally appeared in
The Standard Times on
February 2 2014
Author: Simon Rios
Click here for original article

Nearing the start of tax season, the students looked studiously into their computer screens. But unlike most similar scenarios, these accounting and business majors at UMass Dartmouth weren't doing it for school credit, but to volunteer at a local nonprofit to prepare taxes for low-income people. "They get hands-on experience," said Brian Pastori of the Community Economic Development Center (CEDC), which offers the IRS program Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA).

According to the IRS website, VITA offers free tax help to those who earn up to $52,000. IRS-certified volunteers provide the service through an electronic filing system and highlighted programs including the Earned Income Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Credit for the Elderly or the Disabled.

VITA sites are generally located at community centers like the CEDC, which served some 1,300 people out of its Acushnet Avenue office last year with the help of dozens of volunteers from UMass Dartmouth. Cumulatively they pulled in $1.9 million in tax refunds, much of which came through the under-utilized Earned Income Tax Credit.

Now in its 11th year at the CEDC, some 35 students spent the day at the UMass library doing their VITA certification on a Saturday. Pastori said it looks good on students' resumes. "The program itself is really well-known in accounting firms," he said. "So Harvard Law does the same type of program. ... If you put VITA on a resume, people will know what it is."

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is at the center of the program. Together with the Child Tax Credit, last year the EITC lifted 9.4 million people above the poverty line, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Corinn Williams, executive director at the CEDC, said the VITA program is a sort of counter-balance to the offerings of some tax service companies, who offer to save clients money but often charge extra fees for clients receiving the EITC. "Low-income communities are often subject to a lot of predatory financial behavior," Williams said. Another hit is when clients get rapid refunds, walking out of the office with a check in hand. "That's kind of like usury," she said. "It's like a 63 percent loan that people are being charged." Williams said the VITA program offers low-income taxpayers a free service that allows them to claim 100 percent of the money they're owed.

After completing her test, third-year VITA volunteer Jade Holmes of New Bedford said she participates not just for the resume boost, but also because it's about giving back. "I think it's fun," Holmes said with a smile.

Panera Bread and Dartmouth's Own Roast Beef and Pizzeria donated food and drinks to the event.

Editor's note:
VITA is a strategic partnership between the IRS, Charlton College of Business, the Leduc Center, and the CEDC. Michael Griffin, a member of the Accounting & Finance Department at the Charlton College of Business at UMass Dartmouth recently provided an update for this year's VITA program. This past semester, 39 UMD students - mostly business (and a vast majority from accounting) volunteered many hours at the Community Economic Development (CEDC) Center in New Bedford in the VITA program. The volume of work at the CEDC was up 26% over last year with 1,530 tax returns (state and federal) completed, almost $2 million in tax refunds processed - much of which came from utilization of the earned income tax credit (EITC) and education credits. Our students did an amazing job!

This work is a significant contribution to the area economy and a tremendous help to families who need a financial boost! The market value of the return preparation alone is in the hundreds of thousands of dollars and this work could not happen without our students' help.

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Morton Middle School Takes the Pledge on Community Service

This article originally appeared in
The Fall River Herald on
April 2 2014
Author: Michael Gagne
Click here for original article 

While reciting "I am Morton. I am Fall River. I will get things done," students at Morton Middle School pledged on Wednesday morning to strive to perform 60 hours of community service over the course of the next year. The pledge was led by college students from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth's Leduc Center for Civic Engagement. Sixty hours of community service in one year adds up to a little more than an hour of service per week.  

Speakers told students during assemblies that community service can take on many forms - whether it's participating in a group cleanup at nearby North Park, serving meals to the hungry and homeless, or planting trees throughout the city. 

Morton Principal Sheryl Rabbitt said service-learning had already been integrated into the school's academic enrichment programs. "There are a number of ELT (Expanded Learning Time) courses that actually have in its heart community service," Rabbitt told students, noting classes called Community Service, A Wish Come True and Crafting for a Cause. 

"One of the things we try to honor is the memory of James Madison Morton, the namesake of the building, who dedicated life to the service of Fall River," Rabbitt said, noting that this is the first time Morton is partnering with the Leduc Center. "We talk a lot about the school being built for you. Not only this building, but all of the buildings," Rabbitt said. "That is virtually unheard of, the number of new school buildings in the community, in Fall River ... It's quite a testimony to community service, to giving back...Every day I ask you guys to pull each other up," Rabbitt said. "We just had our MCAS. We talk about our standards being high. We're sort of pulling each other up. This idea ... it goes back to the roots of the school. (It's an) important message for you to carry on." 

UMass Dartmouth students discussed what motivates them. 

"Home is the reason I serve," said Arlene Balwin, reciting from a poem she had written for the occasion. "Leadership is what I'm teaching the next generation. One hour a day can really go a long way." 

Alejandro Lopez told Morton students he picked up leadership skills in middle school from community service projects he was involved in with the Boston Food Bank. "You take something from it," Lopez said. "I encourage all of you guys to do community service." 

"It's all about helping someone out, doing something you love. Enjoy your community service," said Rhesa Cumberbatch. 

"Just speaking out will make a difference," said Nick Botelho, referencing Martin Luther King Jr.'s efforts during the Civil Rights Movement. 

While looking over his audience of seventh- and eighth-graders, Mayor Will Flanagan told them, "I see our next police officers, firefighters, doctors, teachers. We've got to make sure the next generation of leaders has a strong city. How do you make a city strong? You get involved," Flanagan said. "No matter how bad you think your day is going, always remember there is somebody out there who has it worse." Flanagan added, "It all comes down to what type of community you want to inherit when you become adults." 

He introduced "Tree Lady" Mary Ann Wordell, the president of the Fall River Street Tree Planting Program. That morning, Wordell, a graduate of the old Morton, received a citation for her commitment to urban forestry. "I came here today with the understanding I was hopefully coming to find some volunteers to help with the cleanup scheduled for North Park," Wordell said. That clean up is scheduled in the middle of April. Then there's a tree planting on May 3. 

Just before dismissing students to their next class, Rabbitt told them, "I'm looking forward to having awesome community service projects." 

For photos of the event, please visit our Facebook page. For more information on SouthCoast Serves and their 60-Hour Pledge, please visit their website.

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Youth Civic Engagement Summit 2014:
To Serve is to Lead, To Lead is to Serve 

This article originally appeared in
The Fall River Herald on
April 17 2014
Author: Michael Gagne 
Click here for original article

It's fitting that a summit held at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth that aimed to inspire the area's young people to be more involved in their communities did not just feature adults jawing at them about being more engaged. It culminated with students doing service work, packaging meals. 

So after a morning that included a motivational speaker, workshops and a short lunch break, hundreds of high school students and their teachers proceeded to a gym in the Tripp Athletic Center, where they donned hair nets and protective gloves. Then they stationed themselves in assembly lines and, following the bang of a gong, took on small roles: measuring and bagging, and pouring down a funnel scoops of rice, soy protein and freeze-dried vegetables, and counting packets containing essential vitamins and minerals. In about an hour's time, they bagged 10,000 kits for the food relief organization Stop Hunger Now. Those kits will soon ship out to far off places like Cambodia, Sudan and the Philippines. 

Students came from B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River, New Bedford, Dartmouth, Westport and a few other places. Durfee student groups included the Student Government Association, Sixth Man and Freedom Writers. Most students were freshmen and sophomores. 

As Meredith Forcier, a Durfee sophomore, stood in line wearing the hair net and gloves, she explained that the event had exceeded her expectations. "I was expecting a conference sort of thing," Forcier said. Forcier said she enjoys participating in community service. "As much as community service helps others, it helps you learn more about yourself," she said. "I like to help ... I'm fortunate enough to be blessed with a great life." 

Durfee English teacher Crystal Soares worked at a station along the food-aid assembly lines, along with students Taylor Botelho, Leyshonna Reed, Lesley Carvalho and Kasey Andrade. 

"The idea is to have the youth summit annually," said Matthew Roy, the director of UMass Dartmouth's Leduc Center for Civic Engagement, which sponsored the event. The Leduc Center holds an engagement summit annually, but Roy said it was only the second time the center has held a youth engagement summit. Roy said he is looking to follow up by having many of the same students attend the summit next spring. 

The event's keynote speaker, Carlos Ojeda Jr., gave a powerful talk. Ojeda spoke of growing up hard-of-hearing in a low-income‌ Puerto Rican household in New Jersey. He said expectations were low - he wasn't expected to graduate from high school, let alone graduate from college. But he did both, becoming the first in his family to accomplish it. Then he started his own businesses and eventually became a motivational speaker. "If you really want to promote change, you must empower students who are stakeholders in their communities and can effect change," Ojeda said. Adults' roles are to provide resources, support and inspiration for those youth, he said. "If you allow them to, they will surprise you," Ojeda said. 

Ojeda's words resonated with several students, including Durfee senior Nicholas Raposo and freshmen Brendan Rockett and Chris Martin. "It was great," Raposo said, adding he was looking forward to participating in local literacy and hunger initiatives. 

John Saurette, a Durfee teacher and adviser for two student groups, said he hopes to see students bring ideas for service projects back to the school. History teacher and Student Government Association co-adviser Mike Costa agreed. "That was pretty cool," he said of the talks given, prior to workshops. "I didn't know what to expect. But the whole room was just drawn in."

For photos of the event, please visit our Facebook page.

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Honoring the Earth on AHA! Night 

On April 10th, in downtown New Bedford, UMass Dartmouth students from the Leduc Center and Dr. Kellyann Kowalski's organizational behavior class helped celebrate our environment during AHA! night as part of Massachusetts only "green parade". According to Lee Heald, Director, AHA! New Bedford, "Each April, AHA! night is focused on the theme of Sustainable Southcoast with, at its center, the largest people-powered procession in New England - I mean 27 floats and 2 bands. The only way that we are able to this is through the labor and love of the students coordinated by the Leduc Center. The UMass Dartmouth teams gain experience in civic and community engagement by connecting with the kids from local non-profit after-school programs and social services organizations to create and parade the floats. It is an amazing display of inter-generational learning and simple fun, as well as a real role for undergraduates to play in regional community building."  

The parade consisted of eco-floats, which are floats that the participants can "wear, roll, or carry". Dr. Kowalski's students took up the challenge to create their eco-floats with community partners. In addition to our UMass Dartmouth students, community members including a group of about 20 students from James Madison Morton Middle School participated in a first-time event for the school this year. 

They walked in the annual Earth Day Parade in downtown New Bedford, pulling a small float with a maroon-colored horse with a gold-colored mane, the school's mascot, better known as the Morton Mustang.They also wore multicolored papier mâché masks and carried placards displaying messages about being good stewards of the planet and not polluting. 

These students were seen in art classes painting those placards and masks. The hope, according to Morton's Extending-Learning Time Coordinator, Maureen Estes, is to link art with scientific messages.

‌So the placards bore messages and were painted in hues of blue, green, brown and other colors. One placard read, "It ain't no joke for the earth to choke," another, "Earth is not a trash can," and a third said, "Be good to your mother." One placard incorporated the artists' ages into its message: "Tweens go green."  

"My job is to connect a community resource with the school," Estes said. So she found an artist who has worked with young children before: Fall River native Jim Kay. "Jim has been connected with education projects for years. We knew he would be a great way to connect Fall River to the event," Estes said. "He is an incredible advocate for all youth." 

Seen putting finishing touches on the Mustang the day before the parade, Kay explained that he was putting wiring in the hand-pulled wagon that forms the base of the float. "So it's on the float" and "won't fall off," Kay said. 

Papier mâché isn't Kay's preferred medium, but he's honed his skill for making sculptures over the years, he said. His own career is varied - from designing and building stage sets in college, to producing television shows and directing films. 

Students were also seen wearing their creations and putting the finishing touches on their own pieces. 

The parade also included performances by the New Bedford All-City Marching Band and the UMass Dartmouth Steel Drum Ensemble. The procession began in front of the New Bedford Public Library and traveled through the city's downtown historic district.

To see additional photos, please check out our Facebook page. 

We hope you can join us next year! 

Editor's note: A part of this story originally appeared in the Fall River Herald on April 13 2014. The article's author was Michael Gagne.

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