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CCRI volunteers fan out across state to help nonprofits on Community Service Day

April 10, 2013

Photo from Open Table of Christ volunteer site. Volunteers Monica Contreras and Brenda Pacheco organize clothing in the Open Closet thrift store within Open Table of Christ Church, which serves the Washington Park and South Providence neighborhoods. The site was one of seven on Community Service Day. See photos from the other sites in the online gallery.

Nearly 150 CCRI students, faculty and staff volunteered their time in the community on April 9 for the college’s seventh annual Community Service Day as part of All College Week.

Volunteers painted, sorted charitable donations, did yard work and more at seven sites throughout Rhode Island from Providence to Middletown to the woods of West Greenwich.

One of these sites was Open Table of Christ in the Washington Park section of Providence. The all-volunteer-run nonprofit provides food, clothing and household items to people in the surrounding neighborhood. CCRI volunteers painted and cleaned the facilities, cleaned the outdoor grounds and sorted clothing donations.

“It feels wonderful to have the CCRI volunteers come in and do some of the things that we need done,” said Clarice Gothberg, the volunteer coordinator at Open Table. “Everything we do in the church here is done by volunteers.”

Gothberg could have been speaking for any of the sites that CCRI served for Community Service Day. These nonprofit organizations rely on unpaid volunteers to get their work done. In tough economic times, their services are increasingly in demand and a backlog of work can pile up.

Gothberg said Open Table of Christ feeds 400 families every week and distributed half a million pounds of food last year. The church also hosts a free health clinic once a week.

Each year, CCRI invites nonprofit organizations to apply for consideration as a site for Community Service Day. Part-time CCRI student and regular Open Table volunteer Joemily Collazo nominated the organization when she saw the call for applicants. She recently moved out of the church’s Broad Street neighborhood to Warwick.

“I was very pleased to know that this site was chosen,” she said. “As a volunteer here, I know that we need the help.”

A mother of four who is putting herself through school, Collazo said she relied on an organization like this when she was laid off from her job last year.

“If it wasn’t for a community like this, I would not have made it,” she said.

There are many ways to serve a community, and some of the organizations CCRI volunteers visited are committed to preserving history and teaching lessons from the past. The Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum in Exeter is the only museum in Rhode Island that tells the story of the region’s indigenous people. It also offers classes in craftwork and traditional well-being.

Volunteers at this site helped the organization prepare for an upcoming yard sale by organizing and tagging items and cleaning the grounds.

In North Kingstown, volunteers helped the USS Saratoga Museum Foundation, the R.I. Aviation Hall of Fame and the USS John F. Kennedy Project organize a museum and clean display items.

The USS Saratoga Museum Foundation worked for years to bring that ship, a retired aircraft carrier, to Narragansett Bay to serve as a tourist attraction, education center and museum. The U.S. Navy decided to scrap that carrier but offered the USS John F. Kennedy instead. The organizations are working to bring the ship to Rhode Island.

An aircraft carrier is like a floating city, complete with medical laboratories, kitchens and machine shops. The groups attempting to bring the JFK to Rhode Island plan to use these facilities to offer trade and vocational classes. The retired carrier also will be a museum and a memorial to those who served.

USS Saratoga Foundation volunteer Dick Ricker explained why it is important to build museums like this to honor America’s veterans: “There are so many veterans around but we’re losing them every day,” he said. “Their stories are being lost.”

Many of the CCRI volunteers who chose to work at this site did so out of an interest in and respect for the military. Freshman Erin Mahoney, whose father is a military veteran and whose brother is serving in the U.S. Air Force, said she is gaining an appreciation for military history.

She had a rare experience on Community Service Day, waxing and cleaning a retired U.S. Marine Corps F4F jet fighter from the Korean War. This plane is identical to the one Boston Red Sox left fielder Ted Williams flew during his war service. The R.I. Aviation Hall of Fame hopes to use it in a Ted Williams museum, fully supported by the Red Sox.

“I like it a lot,” Mahoney said about her first Community Service Day experience. “I feel like I want to volunteer more often at places like this.”

Mahoney was working with her classmate and best friend Jordan Traver. “It’s nice to be out here and there’s a lot of history,” Traver said.

Another facet of Community Service Day was nature conservancy. Volunteers at Middletown’s Norman Bird Sanctuary installed nesting boxes for migrating birds at this 325-acre wildlife refuge.

In West Greenwich, intrepid volunteers trekked a half mile over rugged terrain to help the Narragansett chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club work on a hiking trail in the Wickaboxet Management Area. In perhaps the most physical work at any of the Community Service Day sites, volunteers here sheared bark and chopped wood to build log bridges.

“We like doing things outdoors and we like hard work,” said CCRI Assistant Business Management Officer Deborah Carr, explaining why she volunteered with her friend Deanna O’Reilly, an Athletics Department staff assistant, for this site. The pair has done Community Service Day together almost every year.

First-semester student Seth Amato was also working at the Wickaboxet site. “I did a lot of community service when I was in the military and I’ve always liked to give back,” he said. “It’s nice to be with people and get outside away from the paperwork.”

CCRI volunteers also visited NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, which works to provide affordable housing in northern Rhode Island, and Providence’s West End Community Center, which provides social services, day care, before and after-school programs and some elderly services.

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Last Updated: 8/25/16