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CCRI volunteers aid community agencies
March 27, 2014
Nearly 250 students, faculty and staff from the Community College of Rhode Island registered to participate in the college’s eighth annual Community Service Day on Tuesday, March 25. The volunteers were spread out across eight sites spanning the state from Woonsocket to Westerly, donating hundreds of hours to various projects in celebration of All College Week.
Projects varied from site to site, including landscaping a neglected tract of community garden, facilitating arts and crafts projects at a human service nonprofit, cleaning and restoring local historic armories and more.
As morning broke in Providence, volunteers at the Southside Community Land Trust weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty as they dispersed throughout the small, weedy environs of the Dexter Community Garden.
Michelle Walker, who has worked on the staff of the land trust for the past five years as the development assistant, said this was her first time working with volunteers from CCRI. Walker said that the land trust has a small core group of paid employees and depends largely on volunteer efforts from the community to help it succeed in its mission of promoting urban agriculture and local food production in the city. It’s a partnership that makes sense for both the land trust and the college, she said, particularly as many of the college’s students live in the greater Providence area.
“These students are already invested in the community … and this is a nice way to be invested directly in the community. Because this garden will not only impact people, it impacts a local economy, and it impacts green space, so it’s nice to have a group from local college helping out,” Walker said.
General Studies student Lenize Madrid, who was working to rake and till the soil on the plot, primarily takes classes in Warwick but lives nearby in Providence, so she said it felt particularly “good to be able to help this community in a way that everyone can see.”
Walker explained that the space had served as a community garden for the neighborhood in the past, but that the residents who were gardening had moved away some time ago, leaving the site dormant. The CCRI volunteers were working in teams to pick up trash, weed the lot and loosen the already composted soil on the lot to get it ready for use this spring.
“The transformation is amazing,” said Dean of Business, Science and Technology Peter Woodberry, a member of the crew led by Camille Numrich, who works in Student Services at the college. “We’re doing good work, and seeing the before and after is really gratifying,” Woodberry said.
Numrich added: “I think this work – being out of the classroom – is a very important part of learning and education. This contribution isn’t only valuable to the community, but to ourselves, as well.”
Just over the line in Cranston, more than 100 student and staff volunteers gathered at the various sites belonging to the Keystone Group, a nonprofit that offers services to individuals with developmental disabilities. In a large, open space at the group’s AccessPointRI facility, clients and volunteers milled about at various stations, creating cheerful arts and crafts in various mediums. Abstract wooden forms, cut in the attached garage by a CCRI volunteer, were being painted in neon hues at one table while at another station, a client worked with an employee on a sewing project, for example.
Art and enrichment program director Karen Matteson said that the clients’ work eventually would be displayed and sold in an effort to raise funds for the facility, helping to create awareness and a self-sufficient business operation for the organization.
“It’s been a wonderful experience,” she said. “The thrust of our program is really based on the volunteer experience, integrating people from the community into our program, having it be a collaborative experience. We’re looking to get people in here so that they can be aware of what it is that we do for people with disabilities.”
The mission of Keystone and its partner organizations was close to home for CCRI student Maryann Swanbeck, who serves as the president of the Knight Campus Human Services Club – two of the main reasons she chose to volunteer for Community Service Day. She said that she was having such a wonderful time that she would encourage the Human Services Club to make Keystone one of its volunteer sites in the future. “I feel like I’m definitely making a difference,” she said, “and it’s a great learning opportunity.”
Swanbeck was one of many students working on the site hailing from the college’s Access program. Former student Antonio Lombardi, who served as the college’s site coordinator for the Keystone Group this year, now works for the college as part of the Connect to College program. He said Community Service Day represented a unique opportunity that clearly showed the college’s commitment to educating students beyond the classroom.
“It really proves that ‘community’ in CCRI isn’t just an internal thing. It’s unique that we give the opportunity to our students to expand into the outside community and apply everything they’ve learned in their CCRI education to their community,” he said.
Another group of volunteers gathered at the Varnum Memorial Armory and Varnum House Museum in downtown East Greenwich. The dedicated group had made quick work of the tasks at the Armory, and by early afternoon they were tucking in to lunch while the sun shone in on the freshly cleaned historic space.
Site coordinator Deborah Zielinski, who works as assistant to President Ray Di Pasquale, said that her crew of approximately 40 volunteers—largely made up of students and faculty from the Dental Health department—had been working to clean shell casings from the basement shooting range, moving and sorting boxes of archival materials and other housekeeping tasks for the Armory, which serves as not only a museum but as a public function space as well. “We have so much community support that it’s nice for us to turn around and do the same back,” she said.
Larry McDonald, who serves as colonel of the marching unit for the Armory Corp., said that the volunteer effort meant a great deal to the 100-year-old historical militia group, whose mission is to promote patriotism and historic interest throughout the state. McDonald said this was the first time he had worked with volunteers from CCRI, and that he couldn’t be more impressed.
“This is a bunch of really nice young people,” he said. “It has really helped us make a forward step in our plans for improving the armory. One of our goals is to put the armory to use more. The students have helped us by doing simple work which we really don’t have the resources to do, and it’s nice to see the students interested in the history.”
Catelynn DaCosta, who is studying to be a dental assistant, was one of the students providing the muscle to move archival materials up and down the armory’s stairs. It was her first Community Service Day with the college, and she said that she wanted to volunteer to do something different and rewarding. “It feels great to give back when you can,” she said. “Not a lot of people get the chance to do this.”
Another group of students, faculty and staff were gathered farther south in North Kingstown at the USS John F. Kennedy Aircraft Carrier Project. Tucked inconspicuously along Post Road inside a strip of buildings, the project aims to bring a family attraction to the state built around the historic USS John F. Kennedy aircraft carrier. The group hopes to eventually locate the carrier, which was decommissioned after 40 years of service, on the Newport side of the Narragansett Bay. In the meantime, in addition to campaigning for the preservation project, the group maintains an impressive host of commemorative materials, historical objects and informational material through the Rhode Island Aviation Hall of Fame. Volunteers at this site contributed in areas running the gamut from administrative and archival duties to maintenance work on some of the group’s signs.
“It’s such an honor to be able to work on this,” said General Studies major Natividad Caraballo, who said she pursued the opportunity largely because of her interest in joining the National Guard. “As a student of CCRI, having this opportunity makes me feel proud of the college, too.”
Caraballo was working alongside fellow student Oscar Martinez to catalog logs from ships as well as to archive important historical objects. Like Caraballo, Martinez said that this community service opportunity was important to him because of the military connection. A veteran of the Navy, Martinez said he relished the opportunity to work alongside other veterans – people who, he said, are all around us, but who we might not notice unless they self-identify.
“It’s uplifting because of the great memories that I had of my service, and it’s interesting to compare my stories with other people here. I was in the submarine force for 21 years versus the other side of the Navy – the aircraft carriers and ships. It’s a great experience,” he said.
“I just have to tell you what a great bunch of people you have,” added Frank Lennon, president of the USS John F. Kennedy project, who worked with volunteers from CCRI at last year’s Community Service Day. “What they’re able to do for us in one day is so helpful that it’s beyond description. Too often our volunteers get wrapped up in the immediate day-to-day things and, as a result, a lot of background stuff just piles up. This day is a great opportunity for us to catch up on that.”
Other service sites this year were NeighborWorks Blackstone Valley in Woonsocket, Norman Bird Sanctuary in Middletown, the Women’s Center of Rhode Island in Providence and the Westerly Armory Restoration Inc.
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