The COVID-19 crisis has brought disruption and loss, but it has also sparked in many Holy Cross students the desire to help and inspired new ways to continue making a difference.
Community-service programs, in particular, such as Community-Based Learning (CBL) and Student Programs for Urban Development (SPUD), have found creative ways to stay active even though many of their members are no longer living in the Worcester communities that the programs serve.
Examples of CBL projects and experiences that were able to continue after the College transitioned to remote learning in March include: virtual visits and letter writing between St. Mary Healthcare Center residents and students; students in Professor Renee Beard’s “Aging and Society” class finishing their “TimeSlips” project, where they created short videos out of stories they heard from residents at St. Mary and St. Francis Rehabilitation and Nursing Center; and Professor Megan Ross’ “Hip Hop and the Community” course, which transformed what would have been an in-person hip hop symposium to an online resource for the Worcester community and beyond.
Paige Cohen ’21 and Will McAvoy ’20 are just two of the CBL interns who have continued to be engaged in the community since they originally took CBL classes in their first year as part of Montserrat classes.
Cohen, an English major, decided to reunite with youth from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Massachusetts through virtual reading hours. “Reading has always brought me joy and an escape into my imagination when times get hard. I hope that my reading video can provide some of that joy and escape for children in the Worcester community, even as their schools and lives likely look a little bit different right now,” said Cohen.
In another effort, McAvoy, who graduated this spring with a major in biology, worked to set up virtual one-on-one visits with residents from St. Mary Healthcare Center, a nursing home in Worcester.
Michelle Sterk Barrett, director of the Donelan Office of Community-Based Learning, said she was inspired by the students’ enthusiasm and commitment during these challenging times. “Although students could no longer engage with their CBL sites in person due to the coronavirus, Isabelle Jenkins and I are grateful to the many students who continued to be engaged with our community partners after they left campus and returned home.”
Representing the largest student organization on campus, SPUD volunteers have been reaching out throughout the pandemic to those with whom they had connected in Worcester, from children they mentored or tutored to staff at various organizations.
Marty Murphy ’20, who graduated this spring with a double major in mathematics and economics, has been serving as a SPUD intern for the past two years, specifically working with sites related to hunger and homelessness, and supporting Worcester youth through homework help and other programs. Feeling blessed to have been on the receiving end of so many wonderful lessons through community engagement over the last four years on the Hill, Murphy decided to give back by using social media and other channels to request children’s book donations for the kids living within the Worcester Housing Authority.
“My heart goes out to the kids who had their school years cut short so abruptly, and I hope the activities books can serve as a fun distraction and educational supplement,” said Murphy.
His SPUD colleague, Stephanie Jackson ’22, a biology and philosophy double major, thought that collecting letters and cards for the residents from St. Francis Rehabilitation & Nursing Center would help “bring some light into these resident’s lives during this challenging time.”
“While I am not surprised by the care and thoughtfulness our students have shown, it has been heartwarming to read the messages, poems, and cards that have been sent in,” said Marty Kelly, associate chaplain and advisor to SPUD. “As the needs of our neighbors in Worcester grow as a result of this pandemic, we will have to find creative ways of maintaining connections and providing support.”
Will McAvoy echoed Kelly’s call to action, encouraging his colleagues to get involved. “To the current CBL and SPUD students reading this, I would recommend that you reach out to your community partner. Maybe a phone call is something that could be facilitated for your site. You never know until you ask!”
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