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Holy Cross Student Summer: Billy Fitzpatrick ’20

A narrative history project gives the recent Holy Cross graduate a front-row seat to the crucial relationship between city and community leaders
August 24th, 2020 by 
Billy Fitzpatrick '20

Billy Fitzpatrick '20

Billy Fitzpatrick ’20

Summer Plans: Research Associate
Hometown: Westfield, New Jersey
Major: Economics

Summer Plans

Two prominent nonprofit organizations in Worcester — United Way (Central Massachusetts) and the Greater Worcester Community Foundation — organized in mid-March to form a coalition of nonprofit, government, and community leaders to respond to the needs of the community brought on by the public health crisis. This coalition has come to be known as “Worcester Together,” and it has raised over $5 million (to date) for grants to local nonprofits affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The goals of Worcester Together are to identify issues and needs in the community, share resources that can be used to respond to these issues, and coordinate actions in order to respond efficiently and effectively to community needs. All in all, over 50 community leaders join weekly calls, and about ten smaller focus groups (tackling specific issues like food insecurity, Internet access, or education) meet once or twice a week to identify issues and problem solve collaboratively.

I am working with Joe Ertle ‘21 to write a narrative history about this group. The goals of the narrative history project are twofold: to document the urgent, tireless and incredibly impactful work by so many in the Worcester community, and to provide a case study of a city’s response to a public health crisis that may serve as a resource for other cities or future Worcester leaders. We feel so grateful to witness and give voice to incredible efforts by inspiring individuals and organizations.

Lessons Learned

I think my biggest takeaway from being a small part of this project is the importance of collaboration and open communication between the government, nonprofit, and private sectors. Community leaders at nonprofit agencies have a unique perspective of being fully “on the ground.” Often, they are in a unique position to educate their elected officials on the real issues that are affecting their communities. At the same time, local governments need to be willing and eager to be educated by their constituents in order to really understand community needs and respond effectively. I have witnessed great openness, communication, and humility by prominent city leaders that has empowered community leaders to voice concerns and propose solutions to community issues. I hope this type of collaboration can continue even after this pandemic eventually is controlled — I think it is essential if you want a local government that truly works for the people.

The Holy Cross Difference

I have to thank Susan Hunt, associate director of government and community relations, for notifying me about this opportunity. Susan was very helpful and supportive in connecting me with Tim Garvin of United Way to learn more about this initiative. Beyond that, I think my Academic Internship Program seminar course, “Non-profit and Government Agencies,” taught by Isabelle Jenkins, gave me a great glimpse into the social issues I would encounter working with the Worcester Together project. Each week in that course, we read about, reflected on, and discussed a different pressing social issue—ranging from economic inequality and affordable housing to food insecurity and criminal justice, among others. I have seen community leaders wrestle with all of these problems and more, and getting an introduction to those themes in an academic setting was valuable preparation for my work in Worcester Together.

What’s Next

I think this unique opportunity to closely observe local government, large foundations, and smaller nonprofits working together has been valuable as I continue to refine my career plans. I have been particularly drawn to the governing side of things. I am not sure where my career will take me, but it has been really helpful to get this hands-on view of such important work. I would encourage younger Holy Cross students to pursue as many of these immersive experiences as possible in order to get a better sense of what type of work you might feel yourself drawn to.

Click to read more student summer profiles: Paulina Martin ’21, Ramses Taveras ’22, Elizabeth Larkin ’21, Charlie Millard ’22, Mandusu Sidibay ’21, Christopher Smith ’22 and Christina Casey ’22.

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