Eastern Service Expo Honors Community Servants

Italo Bucca presents on his volunteer work with the Windham High School ESOL program

Written by Michael Rouleau

More than 1,000 Eastern Connecticut State University students volunteered more than 17,000 hours in the Windham area in the past academic year. On April 19, these students—and the projects and community partners they represent—were honored at the annual Service Expo and Awards, sponsored by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement.

The expo showcased more than 30 student-led community service projects, followed by an award ceremony and keynote address by Erin Corbett of the Second Chance ex-offender educational program. Projects spanned a variety of causes and organizations, including working with the elderly at a rehabilitation center, mentoring high school students at afterschool programs, volunteering at the local homeless shelter, soup kitchen, addiction center, and more.

Italo Bucca ’19, a sociology major, volunteers with the Windham High School ESOL, an English language-learning program that benefits Spanish-speaking youth in Willimantic. ESOL stands for “English for Speakers of Other Languages.”

“Growing up, I was an ESOL student,” he said. “I can speak from my own experience and assure them that it’s possible for them to learn English. I, too, only spoke Spanish, so it gives them hope.”

 

Alyssa Law ’19, a health sciences major, volunteers at the High Chase Residential Care Home, a facility in Willington that cares for people with intellectual disabilities. “They don’t often get to socialize outside of the facility,” said Law, who visits every Tuesday with other Eastern volunteers to play games and interact with residents.

“I want to be an occupational therapist,” she said, “so working at High Chase has given me insight into how to approach people with autism and other disabilities, and shown me what they’re capable of.”

Dillon Wadsworth ’20, a criminology major, volunteered at Vanderman Place Rehabilitation Center, which works with elderly people who are recovering from medical issues. “Twice a week we go there in hopes of getting the people to leave their rooms and join us in our recreation center,” he said. “Even though we come from different times, we find common ground and have meaningful interactions. Some people say it’s the highlight of their week.

“Some people are depressed,” admitted Wadsworth. “They fear this may be the end of their independence, but others have such a positive outlook; they want to make the most of their situation. I find that empowering.”

Adilsa Encarnacao ’18, a social work major, volunteers with the Barrows STEM Academy After School Program, where she tutors kids and engages them in educational activities. Encarnacao is an aspiring social worker who has worked a variety of projects during her years with the CCE.

“At first thought I wanted to work with kids, but then I fell in love with our addiction recovery program,” she said. “Then I volunteered with one of our high school programs, which is a population I never thought I’d work with, but I fell in love with them, too. Then I did a prison program, and now I can see myself working in a prison… I’m comfortable working with so many populations. The CCE has provided me with great experiences for when I become a social worker.”

Keynote speaker Erin Corbett of Second Chance Educational Alliance

A panel of 14 judges representing seven categories—composed of faculty, staff and community members—went from student to student, rating their projects.

“The range of people the students are working with is impressive,” said Patrick Doyle of United Way, a judge for the “Putting Liberal Arts Into Action” category. “They’re covering a lot of ground and completing a lot of good work in so many different places.”

United Way partners with the CCE for some of its Windham-area programs. “This partnership has enabled us to grow our own programming,” said Doyle, “not only quickly but securely. When the CCE helps us recruit and train volunteers, I know that they’ll be top notch and that we can depend on them.”

These community partnerships are the CCE’s specialty, resulting in long-term projects that address root problems and authentically connect students to the greater community. “We’re not simply picking up trash,” said CCE Director Kim Silcox. “These are meaningful, sustainable collaborations with community organizations.”

The ceremony’s keynote address was given by Erin Corbett, founder of Second Chance Educational Alliance (SCEA). Recognizing that education is a pathway to career enhancement, SCEA provides ex-offenders with access to postsecondary educational opportunities.

“There are some brilliant minds in prison,” said Corbett of her students. “My goal is for them to see the freedom that education provides, and that even in jail, your education cannot be taken, cannot be stripped from you. For higher education to be offered to the incarcerated… it means a new beginning, a new chance at life, it means chains being broken,” she continued. “A new mind produces a new day. Some of my students’ entire outlooks change.”

The awards portion of the expo included the judges’ picks for best community programs as well as awards for select individuals.

Outstanding Student Leader Award winners Carly Perron and Sarah Tricarico (middle) beside CCE Director Kim Silcox and Associate Director Kemesha Wilmot
Faculty/Staff Community Engagement Award winner Nancy Brennan (right) with CCE Director Kim Silcox
Student Community Engagement Award winner Makayla Mowel
Communication Department colleague John Murphy accepted the Service-Learning Award on behalf of Professor Denise Matthews

 

For the program awards, the Girl’s Circle at Natchaug Elementary won in the Leadership Development category.  Windham High School ESOL won in two categories: Putting Liberal Arts into Action and Broadening Horizons. Windham Recovery Center Jobs 101 won in the Strengthening Communities category. Jumpstart won in the Kids First category. Warrior Food Recovery won in the Going Green category. Boy’s Circle at Natchaug Elementary won in the Best New Program category. Covenant Soup Kitchen won in the Community Choice category. 

For the individual awards, Eastern Communication Professor Denise Matthews won the Service Learning Award. She’s an accomplished documentary filmmaker who has recently increased her involvement with the CCE by working with students to produce videos for a range of local businesses and nonprofit organizations.

The Student Community Engagement Award went to Makayla Mowel ’19, an elementary education and women’s and gender studies double major who volunteers with Jumpstart, a program that focuses on early childhood literacy. As a Jumpstart AmeriCorps member and team leader for three years, Mowel has spent more than 1,000 hours working directly with children and supporting other Jumpstart volunteers.

The Faculty/Staff Award went to Nancy Brennan of the Campus Ministry, who manages Eastern’s quarterly Red Cross blood drives.

The Community Partner Award went to Erin Corbett (the keynote speaker) of Second Chance Educational Alliance.

The Outstanding Community Event Award went to Journey House Program of Natchaug Hospital, a residential treatment program for adolescent girls who have been referred from the juvenile justice system. Many have a history of trauma, domestic violence, sex trafficking, mental illness and other serious conditions. Eastern first became involved with Journey House in 2010, and it is consistently among the most popular CCE programs.

Finally, the Outstanding Student Leader Awards went to history and social science major Carly Perron ’18 and social work major Sarah Tricarico ’18. Their volunteer efforts have spanned a number of CCE programs over their Eastern tenures, including The Covenant Soup Kitchen, Sweeney Elementary After School Program, Windham Middle School Enrichment and After School Programs, Windham No Freeze Hospitality Center, and more.