The CCE Blog and Community Program Archive
A history of student support for CCE programs
Blogs from CCE activities during the fall semester
will be compiled and posted in December
Spring 2016 Blog Archive Below
Arts & Culture Day 2016
By Michael Rouleau
The Betty R. Tipton Room at Eastern Connecticut State University was transformed into a frenzy of Irish culture on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, as more than 250 schoolchildren from Willimantic converged on the university for the annual Arts and Culture Day, hosted by the Center for Community Engagement (CCE).
Traditional Irish music played in the background as children enjoyed Irish step dancing, leprechaun arts and crafts and other educational activities, such as learning about energy sustainability in Ireland. United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut donated age-appropriate books about Ireland to all the children, and Eastern’s food service provider Chartwells provided Irish soda bread.
“It’s important for the kids to learn about different cultures because we’re such a culturally diverse town,” said Rebecca Russell, a student leader with the CCE who helped organize the event. “I love having them here on campus, they have so much fun.”
Eastern’s Institute for Sustainable Energy (ISE) hosted a display and crossword puzzle activity about peat and sustainability in Ireland. Peat briquettes, which are composed of compressed decayed vegetation, are a common heating source in Ireland and other wetland regions.
“It’s exciting to be involved with the youth, letting them know about different countries and how they use energy,” said Laura Miller, energy technical specialist with the ISE. Miller has family in Ireland and explained that the country also utilizes a lot of wind energy.
The children also learned about the Book of Kells, an illuminated manuscript of the New Testament that was produced in Ireland, Scotland and England. With markers and crayons, children drew their own illuminated manuscripts.
Arts and Culture Days in the past have focused on Russia, Puerto Rico, Africa and India. “The kids get to learn about something totally new and foreign to them,” said Emily Cameron ’15, Eastern alumna and current AmeriCorps VISTA with the CCE. “It’s a lot of fun!”
A Journey of My Own
Going into Journey House, many of the volunteers did not know what to expect. Some of us had a broad background in volunteering, and some of us were experiencing volunteering for the first time. Journey House is a transitional living community in Natchaug Hospital that provides intensive, comprehensive mental health treatment and special education for court-involved adolescent girls. The girls in the program were ages anywhere from 15 to 18, among varying backgrounds, ethnicities, and cultures. As shown in the graph below, in 2014, 39% of the admitted girls were Caucasian, followed by 32% being Hispanic, and 25% being African American.
Going into the volunteering program, I was nervous that I would not be able to relate to the girls based off of age, ethnic, and individual differences. All of these girls were from different walks of life, brought up with varying sets of ideals and values, depending on their family life and ethnic structure. My biggest fear was that we would not be able to get past these foundational differences. Upon my first impression, it was reaffirmed that I had nothing to fear.
The girls, mandated by the State of Connecticut Probation Program, resided in this house and continually experience rigorous interventional, rehabilitative, and behavioral treatment in aims to steer them away from a life in criminal justice system. Now what was our job as volunteers? Our most pressing objective was to meet with them as a group and form a connection and through these interactions, we are giving these girls a figure in their life that they can look up to, trust, and seek guidance. Our goal in each of our meetings was to develop, most importantly, a sense of empowerment through our self-designed innovative activities. As each week passed, the girls became more comfortable with the volunteers. They began to open up more about their lives and even at times express how this program had given them the inspiration to pursue a future in higher education, or other programs like cosmetology school. Throughout this program, we saw the girls, grow, develop, and mature into young adults ready to reenter their community. Witnessing this was one of the most rewarding aspects of this volunteering experience and as time went on, I began to learn that it was not just the volunteers making a difference in these girls’ lives. However, it was they who had made a lasting impression on me.
We volunteered every Thursday in the evening, one of the few time slots they had open for outside programs. Each evening spent with the girls would be different. Some days we would do arts and crafts, others we would play volleyball and basketball in their recreational facility. Sometimes we would simply play board games and talk to each other. One of the most interesting observations I made in my first visit was how outgoing and open these girls were to meeting us. In fact, it was actually the volunteers who were a little shy upon meeting! This act of compassion resonated with me and showed me their true strength. Not only was their outgoing nature vibrant, but their supportive compassion was clear. In the games of volleyball or basketball, it was not about being the best player, winning the most games. It was a time to laugh, bond, and learn from each other as people. In the outside world, I think it is easy for people to get caught up in a busy, competitive lifestyle where you forget to enjoy the simple pleasures or enjoy those around you. I often walked out of Journey House in awe of the experiences I had with these girls. Volunteering here truly taught me how valuable it is to donate your time to the people in your community.
This program reminded me that despite the past mistakes people have made and the stigma that may be attached as a result, they are still individuals that want to be successful and lead a fulfilling life. This program highlights the many amazing qualities they have, and how important it is to not judge a book by its cover. Most importantly, this program highlights how important it is to volunteer your time to those around you. Volunteering has a crucial impact on the community, and its morale as a whole. It creates a foundation that fosters kindness, selflessness, and solidarity. Although this is only a semester long program, I look forward to returning in the spring!
From December 15, 2015
CONNECTICUT COMMUNITY FOR ADDICTION RECOVERY
SARAH EMERSON & ASHLEY CLEARY
Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery is a resource with centers in Willimantic, Hartford, and Bridgeport. Its doors are open to those who are in recovery, and friends, family or allies of those who are battling addictions such as: drugs (heroin, cocaine, marijuana, pills), alcohol, gambling, sex, etc. When someone walks into the center, they are greeted by a volunteer asking, “How can I help you in your recovery today?” People come to CCAR looking for support and peers to relate to. For instance, CCAR has support services including All Recovery Meetings, Reiki, recovery coaching, poetry groups, craft groups, and more. Volunteers are available whether someone needs help building a resume, completing a job application, or simply a listening ear – making the center a great asset to the community. It is beneficial that the center engages with the community and offers a resource to recovery. CCAR aims to help people meet their recovery goals and accepts any pathway to recovery. For some people recovery may mean staying clean and sober, while others may detox on Methadone. The center places value on recovery potential and believes you are in recovery if you say you are.
Ashley and I attend CCAR on a weekly basis. We have many duties that we carry out, such as running an Arts & Crafts group. Every Monday, recovering addicts join us to do varying arts and crafts-type activities. Crafts that we have done include friendship bracelets and relaxation jars. One week Ashley made a tree out of brown paper and taped it to the wall. Each leaf for the tree was made by people attending our craft group. We colored in, decorated and wrote what we are grateful for on our individual leaves. The homemade tree is a festive, colorful, positive asset to CCAR’s wall decorations. Not only do these activities give people something positive to do with their free time, but they provide a creative outlet to cope with the stressors of recovery. During this time we also have group discussion about addiction, recovery, and the like.
When Ashley and I are not overseeing our craft group, we decorate the center for the various holidays throughout the semester. Together, we’ve made the center look more welcoming and fun. For Halloween, we made colorful posters inviting the public to CCAR’s Halloween Party. We hung spider webs and skeletons to get our guests in the Halloween spirit! It was nice to see addicts bring their families into an inviting atmosphere where they could safely celebrate the holiday.
Also, we often make TRS phone calls. TRS stands for Telephone Recovery Support. Addicts in recovery voluntarily sign up for this program. On a weekly basis, we call people to discuss their progress and talk through any setbacks they may experience. Most of the people we call are extremely grateful and appreciate having someone take the time to reach out to them. I have learned that not everyone going through recovery has family or friends who support them during such a challenging time in their lives and it’s important that they know there are people who care about them.
I would describe my time spent volunteering at CCAR as fun and educational. Ashley and I have bonded with, and made friends with the other volunteers and people who come in to use CCAR’s services. Listening to the stories of these individuals has been eye-opening and informative. We have learned a lot about the struggles that people go through while trying to recover from the disease of addiction. For example, finding housing is an issue for many as they transition out of halfway or sober houses.
Every weekday CCAR holds an All Recovery Meeting from 12:30 PM – 1:30 PM. Like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, the All Recovery Meeting is a group of men and women who share their experience, hope, and strength with one another. At All Recovery Meetings, people suffering from any type of addiction are welcome. One person leads the meeting; they choose a topic to focus on such as finding happiness or maintaining relationships. The rest of the group sits in a circle, taking turns contributing to the conversation.
The first time I sat in on one of these meetings, I was heartbroken. The people who shared their stories were so open and vulnerable. They spoke of their painful experiences; many of them grateful to now be in recovery. The majority of the people in attendance were positive and uplifting, which I really admired. It is so nice to sit at these meetings and hear people talk about turning their lives around. Ashley and I are happy to know that recovery is possible! While these people will be “addicts” for the rest of their lives, with a lot of willpower, they can become sober and stay that way.
Volunteering at CCAR has been a positive experience overall. CCAR has made me interested in possibly working in a field with addiction recovery, or at least humanity and helping others. I have learned to be patient and listen without judgment. CCAR taught me to be conscious of others; you never know what someone is going through. As a volunteer, it is my job to stand by addicts whether they’re having a good or bad day. I would recommend volunteering at CCAR if you are empathetic for and would like to help those suffering from addiction.
Windham Middle School Changing Lives
Posted by: Josh Henton
Windham Middle school’s enrollment is about 1,000 students, the teacher to student ratio is 13:1, the test scores are 1 out of ten. When reading these stats, one may jump to the conclusion that the school is not doing its job, that the school is just letting kids run amuck. Well in my experience working with these kids I have learned that this idea that the middle school is not doing its best job is just false.
My first day was an intimidating one to say the least, middle school kids are terrifying, and it’s just a fact. From my memory they act as though they are adults, yet still expect to be treated as children. But once I entered into the classroom I was welcomed into a class of well-behaved kids, all doing their work. Middle school kids doing their work? Yes, the middle school kids worked all through the class. This class being history made this even more interesting, since history is one of those classes that kids write off as being pointless.
Over the next few weeks I would sit in on different groups and of kids, asking many what they thought of school and what they picture themselves doing for a job as they get older. Many of the kid’s said plainly that they didn’t like school that it was just boring, but they knew that it was important to do your work in order to get through it. When it came to the job question, the kid’s ideas on jobs differed. Some kids talked about how they wanted to go into sports while others talked about any job with money will do. The kid’s prospects were not specific, but they still had prospects, even the kids who wanted to go into sports mentioned the fact that good grades will help them do that. This goes against what many think the problem with this school it, the problem that middle school kids in Willimantic don’t have prospects. These kids have the same prospects as any other middle school kids. So this begs to question what the issue could be, part of this is the reliance on state testing to prove the efficacy of a school. This doesn’t paint the whole picture of what it’s like in the school.
What Volunteering at Vanderman Meant to us:
Posted by: Rebecca Russell and Stephanie Celifie
Volunteering at Vanderman was one of the best decisions we could have made this year. From the first day volunteering we (Rebecca and Stephanie) connected with the residents and workers so well. The residents were happy to see some new faces at the facility. They were making jokes and asking us questions about our lives. We were hooked instantly. When our designated days to volunteer came up we couldn’t wait to catch up with the residents. We had many responsibilities and joined in many activities with the residents.
Some of our duties included resident transportation from their rooms to the recreation room serve refreshments, and handing out snacks. Tuesday and Wednesdays were reserved for games and movie night. Responsibilities during game nights included rolling dice for those who needed the help, played as mediator during disputes if any confusion arose, handed out prizes for the winner. During movie night our responsibilities included keeping residents company and creating conversation. On Thursdays the residents baked all sorts of cookies and made holiday chocolate lollipops. Our role during this time included helping the residents combine ingredients, roll cookie dough into balls, placing on trays, and decorate with sprinkles and frosting.
Our involvement with the residents seemed to have an impact on their lives. The residents always asked when they would see us next and they would get excited every time they saw us walking into the recreation room. They were interested in our lives and loved to exchange stories. The employees even noticed how involved the residents were becoming after we began spending time with them. Our community service at Vanderman Place helped the residents cope with needing assistance because we made them feel independent by the activities we included them in. We were improving their lives as they were improving ours.
Volunteering at Vanderman taught us many things about ourselves and about life. We learned just how precious our time is and it should be spent with family and friends. The wisdom we gained from sharing stories with the residents will help us become better people. Our level of patience, acceptance, understanding, and even our ability to laugh and have fun were strengthened. This experience has meant a lot to us because we are giving these individuals something to look forward to every week and that is such a rewarding feeling. We hope future volunteers continue the work and dedication because we realize how happy it makes the residents.
One of the most interesting prospects was the relationship between the teacher and the kids. The teacher and the kids seemed to actually be on the same level of understanding between each other. The teacher was not just acting in the superior role, but also taking the role as a friend. The kids were more excited about learning in her presence, they seemed thrilled to get school has improved over the years and what the kids are actually getting from, then maybe the opinion can change and become fact.
“Donate your blood for a reason, let the reason be life”!
Posted by Jendiya Williams on April 8, 2015
I always wanted to donate blood to the American Red Cross but my extremely irrational fear of needles has hindered me from achieving that. So I thought to myself, how could I somehow contribute to a blood drive without having to give blood? Well it was obvious to look into some volunteer opportunities. So I did. I decided that I was going to get involved in the Red Cross blood drives that where being held here at ECSU. It was such a gratifying experience and I absolutely want to thank them for having me as a volunteer and granting me such a humbling experience.
I would definitely recommend becoming a volunteer for the Red Cross if you would like to contribute to the organization. Otherwise donating blood is an awesome idea! Here is a little information about the donating process for those of you who may be interested.
Blood donations help millions of patients in need. To make the journey from “arm to arm,” every unit goes through so many steps and tests to ensure that it is as safe as can be. After finding a blood donation opportunity, and going through a short health history questionnaire and mini-physical, the Red Cross collects about 1 pint of blood and several small test tubes from each donor. The donation is stored in an iced cooler and then transported to a Red Cross manufacturing center, where it is then scanned into a computer database and sent off.
The blood is received in one of three Red Cross National Testing Laboratories, where a dozen tests are performed on each unit of donated blood – to establish the blood type and test for infectious diseases. Within 24 hours, the test results are transferred electronically to the manufacturing facility and units that are suitable for transmission are labeled and stored in refrigerators. This is the blood that is available to be shipped to hospitals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Puentes al Futuro
Posted by: Melanie Krol
This year, the Center of Community Engagement continued its program, “Puentes al Futuro” at the Windham Middle School. Puentes is a mentoring program for English Language Learners’ students. The program ran from January 28th to April 30th, and the Center of Community Engagement (CCE) provided transportation for the volunteers.
Each week, the children and volunteers participated in various activities and learned about culture. They participated in dance or percussion on Tuesdays, swimming or sports on Wednesdays, and pottery or dance on Thursdays. With the help of the volunteers, the students also had time to work on their homework after each activity. Volunteer responsibilities also included assisting with cultural enrichment activities by keeping students focused and inspiring them to pursue their dreams by going to college after high school.
Overall the program has had a positive effect on the community, as it is a learning experience for both volunteers and the children. Many of the students do not have good role models in their lives and by participating in Puentes, they are more likely to stay out of trouble. The program will continue to create change and progress in the community because it gives students something positive to do after school. The “Puentes al Futuro” program also carries on at the Windham High School. Many of the children have been in the program for years and plan to stay in it in the future.