Eastern to Participate in Ellen DeGeneres’ ‘One Million Acts of Good’

Eastern Connecticut State University students will assemble 200 boxes of nonperishable food items on March 26 as participants of “One Million Acts of Good,” a program sponsored by Ellen DeGeneres and Cheerios. From 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. in the Student Center Lobby, students will pack boxes of cereal, granola bars and other nutritious snacks that will be delivered to a Willimantic afterschool program the following day.

Chartwells, Eastern’s food service provider, is partnering with General Mills, which is donating the food items. Eastern is one of 100 Chartwells higher-education clients nationwide participating in One Million Acts of Good. The lunchbox-sized boxes that students will assemble are provided by MATTER, a global nonprofit dedicated to increasing healthy food access to children.

Eastern’s mascot, Willi the Warrior, will cheer on students as they assemble the boxes – 25 of which will go to Eastern’s on-campus food pantry, Shawn’s Cupboard; the rest going to a local afterschool program affiliated with Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Student-Leader Katelyn Root Selected for Newman Civic Fellowship

Katelyn Root, a third-year student at Eastern Connecticut State University, has been selected for the Newman Civic Fellowship, a program of Campus Compact, a national coalition of colleges and universities. The year-long fellowship recognizes and supports high-potential students who have demonstrated a commitment to their community through a record of public service. Fellows are nominated by their university president based on their potential for public leadership.

The 2019-20 class of fellows includes 262 community-committed students from across the country, Mexico and Greece. Root is one of six selections from Connecticut, and the only from the state university system.

Root is a student leader at Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE). Through her CCE activities, she has played an integral role in developing a volunteer program with the Windham Recovery Community Center, a branch of the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR). As a regular volunteer, she leads job-readiness trainings and group sessions, and has recruited more than 60 student volunteers over the past two years.

“Katelyn has been a vocal advocate for the recovery community and has created a welcoming and understanding corps of volunteers who support the center’s staff and guests,” said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. “She has worked effectively to reduce the stigma associated with addiction and to support individuals in recovery.”

“Volunteering in the Willimantic community has changed me entirely,” said Root, who hails from Stratford and double majors in elementary education and liberal studies. “Without these experiences I would not be the person I am today. Working at the recovery center has allowed me to impact the lives of many adults facing recovery from drugs, alcohol and other addictions.

“I’ve had an overwhelming number of guests approach me with news of interviews, second interviews and job offers after my sessions. In addition to resume and job-search assistance, I chair recovery meetings and provide telephone support to guests attending other centers.”

Root was named CCAR’s “Volunteer of the Year” in 2018 and received the CCE’s “Strengthening Communities” award in 2017.

She will be mentored by CCE Director Kim Silcox through the duration of the fellowship. In addition to exclusive learning opportunities with a national network of similarly engaged student leaders, fellows are invited to attend the Newman Civic Fellows National Convening this November 2019 in Boston.

The Newman Civic Fellowship was created in honor of Frank Newman, one of Campus Compact’s founders and an advocate for the role of higher education in preparing students for active and engaged citizenship. The fellowship is supported by the KPMG Foundation and Newman’s Own Foundation.

Campus Compact is a coalition of more than 1,000 colleges and universities that are committed to the public purposes of higher education. The Newman Civic Fellowship is meant to nurture the next generation of public leaders through exclusive virtual and in-person learning opportunities.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern to Host Community Night with ‘Puentes al Futuro’

Members of the Willimantic community are invited to Eastern Connecticut State University on March 27 for a celebration of Afro-Caribbean music and dance led by local middle schoolers who participate in the “Puentes al Futuro/Bridges to the Future” program. The free event will begin with light refreshments at 5 p.m. in the Fine Arts Instructional Center, with the main event beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the Concert Hall.

Puentes al Futuro is an afterschool program for Windham Middle School students coordinated by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement. The March 27 showcase will include the sounds of Afro-Caribbean jazz by well-known local teacher and musician Arnaldo Rivera and his band Bentetu. Rivera, who teaches percussion in the Puentes al Futuro program, will also perform with his young students who have learned Caribbean percussion rhythms.

The program will also include dancers from Puentes al Futuro. The colorful costumes and the fast-paced African, Salsa and Bomba dances will inspire audiences to get up and dance. The young students will be accompanied by instructors Tayla Bogle and Jackie Varian, Eastern students and Yusomil Bonet, a long-time teacher and choreographer with the Puentes program and Windham Middle School.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Students Provide a ‘Jumpstart’ to Local Preschoolers

Jeniel Edmonds is an Eastern Jumpstart volunteer who majors in early childhood education and psychology

 In a Willimantic, CT, classroom, more than a dozen preschoolers listen eagerly as an Eastern Connecticut State University student reads a book to them. It’s a ritual that both the student and children are familiar with, and when reading time is over, they will transition to other activities with their teacher. It can be hard to handle a room full of excitable preschoolers, but the Eastern student has been well trained, thanks to a national early-education program called Jumpstart.

Jumpstart, an AmeriCorps affiliate program with a strong chapter at Eastern, was created in 1993 to provide preschoolers from low-income areas the tools they need to succeed in kindergarten and beyond. By providing language, literacy and social activities, Jumpstart aims to help preschoolers get an equal start in life regardless of zip code.

“Kids from under-resourced communities enter kindergarten 60 percent behind their classmates from more affluent areas,” says Meaghan Penrod, the Jumpstart site manager at Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE). “You’d think that gap would close when they go to elementary school, but it doesn’t – it just gets wider.”

Eastern students who apply for Jumpstart are interviewed and divided into teams that work together in local classrooms. Each goes through several weeks of early childhood education training, as well as classes about the Willimantic community and the families who live there. Every team is expected to follow an assigned curriculum, as well as create stimulating activities to engage the children in their classrooms.

“A lot of our own personal time is spent planning and creating things for the children we teach,” says Jumpstart member Kimberly Vitka, an elementary education and liberal studies major at Eastern. “Once we’re in the classroom, we’re responsible for teaching the session plan for that week.”

Some of this year’s cohort of Eastern Jumpstart volunteers pose for a group photo.

These plans engage children in educational activities such as reading, name writing, singing vocabulary words, and active or dramatic play. Arts and crafts projects and reading time are particularly popular among the preschoolers.

Vitka and 41 other students dedicate personal time to their students and the classrooms. For most of the volunteers, teaching children and helping the community is both a potential future occupation and a lifestyle.

“My involvement in Jumpstart has made a tremendous impact on my life,” says Frances Zelez, an early childhood education and English major. “Getting the opportunity to further a child’s education is one of the most fulfilling opportunities I could ask for.”

The time commitment for students involved in Jumpstart is significant. If they join AmeriCorps and donate 300 volunteer hours, they receive a federal stipend at the end of the year that goes toward books, housing or tuition. Non-AmeriCorps volunteers commit to 200 hours of service. With more than 40 volunteers, Eastern students donate thousands of hours to preschoolers over the course of a year — all of which are in under-resourced areas.

Despite the hefty commitment, Jumpstart has exploded in popularity at Eastern. When the program first came to campus in 2014, 21 students enrolled. Now, five years later, the number has doubled. Although many students are early education majors, any student is welcome to apply. This year, the Jumpstart members at Eastern major in everything from art to environmental earth science, united by their passion for educating children.

Tai Adorno majors in elementary education and women’s and gender studies.:

Jendayi Nelson, who majors in general studies and communication, originally applied to Eastern as a pre-nursing major. She cites Jumpstart as the reason for her shift in major and career aspirations. “If it wasn’t for Jumpstart, I wouldn’t have found what truly makes me happy,” she said. “Some of my peers realized this was not the field for them, but for me, it was simply reinforcement that the classroom is where I belong.”

Jumpstart has been a national success, with classrooms across the country reporting marked improvements. Ninety-one percent of children in the program made significant language and literacy gains last year, according to Jumpstart teachers. In Willimantic, based on assessments by the CCE, children attending Jumpstart show significant gains in areas critical for academic success.

Aside from embedded support in local community classrooms, Jumpstart also gets involved with children’s events. Eastern Jumpstart members recently hosted an event in collaboration with AmeriCorps MLK Day of Service, in which more than 100 children painted “kindness rocks,” which are rocks painted with inspirational messages that are meant to be left in unexpected places. The children hid their rocks throughout the East Brook Mall, and then returned for story time, leaving with a free book.

“People come up to us at community events all the time and say how much Jumpstart has impacted their lives,” says Penrod. “A grandmother once came up to me and told me how her granddaughter had previously been struggling in preschool, but now that she’s involved with Jumpstart, she’s thriving.”

Stories like these are common. Lizbeth Macias, an elementary education and liberal studies major, reflected on her reasons for joining Jumpstart and the passion she now has for children’s education. “Jumpstart intrigued me from the start due to its mission statement, that all kids should have an equal start,” said Macias. “Children are the future. They hold tomorrow in their hands. They deserve access to education regardless of their socio-economic background.”

Written by Raven Dillon

CCE Receives Outstanding Volunteer Award from United Way

CCE Director Kim Silcox and CCE student leaders Jack Irvine and Jocelyn Santiago pose with the United Way award for “Outstanding Volunteer Mobilization.”

The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at Eastern Connecticut State University was recognized for “Outstanding Volunteer Mobilization” by the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut at a Community Campaign Celebration on Jan. 15.

The award was presented to the CCE for its effectiveness in organizing volunteers in the Willimantic community. Eastern students have volunteered with the United Way Readers program for the past three years at Natchaug School. Student volunteers have also been instrumental in the Day of Caring, a major volunteer effort each fall in locations across Windham. The event is a collaboration between Eastern, the University of Connecticut and the United Way.

Jack Irvine, a sophomore from Cromwell who majors in elementary education and English, and Jocelyn Santiago, a senior from Ledyard who majors in Spanish, have been responsible for coordinating volunteers for the two programs.

“It has been a great experience working with the United Way Readers program,” said Irvine. “My volunteers have loved the experience.”

“Day of Caring is a large-scale event that provides students the opportunity to help community partners with outdoor cleanups, painting and more,” said Santiago. “It’s been a great experience to see the impact that so many students can have in the community on one day.”

CCE Director Kimberly Silcox commented, “Our partnership with the United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut is an important relationship within the Willimantic community. We are proud to work with the United Way staff to serve our community in meaningful ways.”

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Students Design for Access Agency

Eastern and Access Agency personnel peruse the students’ final poster designs at the project’s Nov. 29 unveiling at Access.

Written by Michael Rouleau

Ten graphic design students at Eastern Connecticut State University recently concluded a major project with the Access Community Action Agency in Willimantic. As part of Professor Terry Lennox’s capstone course “Eastern Design Group,” the students created 13 posters that graphically represent the agency’s 13 community programs.

The posters will live in the agency’s conference room as official representations of Access’ services, which include assistance programs for energy, food, housing and employment. The posters will also be used externally for fundraising and outreach events.

“How do we better tell our story?” asked Kathleen Krider, Access’ senior director of community engagement, at the poster unveiling in late November. “By working with Eastern students!” she exclaimed.

Eastern Design Group students and Professor Terry Lennox (middle, back row) stand before several of their final poster designs.

Krider reflected on an email she received this past summer from Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), in which local nonprofits and charities were invited to apply for service projects with Eastern students. Krider responded that Access could use assistance in the realm of marketing and branding.

Enter the Eastern Design Group. Each year, a new cohort of graduating seniors takes on a design-related project to serve an area community organization. This was Lennox’s 10th year bringing students into the community for such a project, and her first with Access.

Robert John ’19 stands before one of his two poster designs.

“We work exclusively on real-world projects, following the same protocol students will use as professionals,” she said. That protocol involves ongoing research of the client’s needs and mission, interviewing clients, determining timetables and maintaining communication throughout the design process.

“Working with a client isn’t as easy as one might expect,” said student Robert John ’19. “There’s constant back-and-forth, new ideas, changes and countless drafts. It’s difficult to meet everyone’s expectations, including your own.”

After receiving design input from Access program coordinators, each student designed 13 posters – one for each program – as well as numerous drafts and revisions. In the end, Access selected a poster from each student, with some students receiving multiple selections.

One of the challenges was navigating differences in artistic opinion. “Before this, all the art I’ve done has been what I like,” said Olivia DeForge ’19, who designed the poster for the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). “If the client wants something changed, you have to do it even if you might not agree. This experience taught me how to interact with and take input from a client.”

Lennox agreed, “It’s all about meeting the client’s needs by translating your own creativity, skills and training.” She also pointed out the résumé- and portfolio-building aspects of this project.

“We wanted the posters to frame the programs from a wide lens,” said Krider. “That way, as the programs change, the posters remain applicable.”

Oivia DeForge ’19 stands before her poster design.

For instance, income guidelines for energy assistance may change from year to year. “If the content is too specific, it may become dated,” said Krider. “We’d like to keep these posters in circulation for several years.”

“I’m incredibly pleased with the end result of my work, as well as the work of my peers,” said John, who designed posters for the Rapid Re-Housing program and the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) nutrition program. “It’s satisfying knowing that something you created will benefit others for years to come.”

The Eastern Design Group was started by Professor Emeritus June Bisantz. Now, Lennox, as well as Professors Tao Chen and Lora Lee, regularly lead art students through community-related graphic design projects. Past projects from their various courses include designing print materials and exhibitions for the Commercially Licensed Co-operative Kitchen (CLiCK), Windham No-Freeze Project, Generations Family Health Center, Windham Hospital, Hole in the Wall Gang Camp and other Windham-area nonprofits.

Eastern Opens Arms to Willimantic with Annual Day of Giving

Hurley Hall was the venue for the Day of Giving

Written by Jordan Corey

WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/21/2018) More than 500 local Willimantic residents enjoyed an early Thanksgiving meal at the 12th annual Day of Giving at Eastern Connecticut State University on Nov. 21.

The Day of Giving is a collaboration between Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the Office of Institutional Advancement and Chartwells, Eastern’s food service provider. Turkey and traditional fixings were donated by the ECSU Foundation and Chartwells.

“The majority of the food is donated,” said Joe Salvaggio, senior director of Dining Services. “We start reaching out to our vendors in September and ask what they can do for donations. We have a couple repeat donors that provide to us every year. It’s an ‘all hands on deck’ event.”

CCE special events coordinator Sarah Tricarico, who was in charge of organizing student volunteers, commented that the lead-up to the Day of Giving is one of her favorite aspects of the event. She spoke on the importance of weekly food drives and the value of seeing donations go to those in need.

Amberlee Cubanski, the CCE student leader in charge of the event, said: “There are a lot of people who don’t have a hot meal on Thanksgiving. When they come here, there’s no discrimination, no judging. They can just come and have a nice meal. It’s really awesome to see everybody sit together, even if they don’t know who’s at the other end of the table.”

Staff from Chartwells prepared food and decorated the Hurley Hall dining room. More than 50 volunteers from Eastern, as well as a group from Putnam Public

More than 500 members of the Willimantic community showed up for the event.

School, served food, provided free transportation, welcomed guests, ran children’s activities and cleaned up.

Marisol, a member of the Willimantic community, praised the overall quality of the event. “I come every year,” she said. “It’s beautiful. It’s clean. The people are very polite. The relationship between Eastern and Willimantic is a good relationship.”

Interim Provost William Salka served stuffing at the food line – his first time with the Day of Giving. “People are very thankful, and we’re very happy to see them,” he said. “Eastern benefits so greatly from being in this community, it’s the least that we can do to give back.”

Sabrina Linares, Willimantic resident and Eastern student, highlighted the wholesome atmosphere of the occasion. “I bring my family with me. We get time to bond here.”

Tricarico concluded: “We continue to hold the Day of Giving because there’s need for it. To be able to offer people a good Thanksgiving meal… It’s great that we can provide that.”

Eastern Holds Third Civic Action Conference

Eastern President Elsa Nunez

Written by Dwight Bachman

Eastern students have a reputation of service to community that goes back decades. But at the Third Annual Civic Action Conference on Nov. 14, it was demonstrated how much students actually learn as a result of their service.

Eastern President Elsa Nunez introduced the idea of structured service learning in 2009, when she established the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), directed by Kim Silcox.

Nunez celebrated Eastern’s faculty for its commitment to organized, systematic service learning. “Students need to ask why people are suffering, and truly reflect on what they can do,” she said. “Getting faculty involved by connecting class curriculum to community needs will increase civic action in a meaningful way. It is so gratifying to see our students embrace this, as it reflects Eastern’s core values”

A wide range of speakers focused on four themes at the conference: 1.) writing assignments to promote civic action; 2.) employability and community engagement; 3.) higher education as a public good; and 4.) community engagement research.

“The conference highlights the amazing work Eastern faculty have achieved in engaging students in the community,” said Silcox, who organized the conference along with Nicolas Simon, assistant professor of sociology. “Students participating in service learning projects are engaging in research, thinking critically and expressing themselves as they reflect on the experiences. These are key marketable skills in today’s job market.”

Part-time lecturer Lucy Hurston and Nicholas Simon, assistant professor of sociology.

Part-time lecturer Lucy Hurston focuses on learning outcomes rather than just the student-volunteer experience. She had students conduct research on numerous issues, including homelessness and poverty. Students volunteered on a Habitat for Humanity housing project. The activity helped students change their perceptions of lower-income populations.

Sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch

Sociology Professor Cara Bergstrom-Lynch’s intensive writing course requires students to focus on social inequalities and to identify solutions. “Students then develop a research project through a sociological lens and write a research paper,” said Bergstrom-Lynch.

English Professor Miriam Chirico

English Professor Miriam Chirico’s students focused on urban revitalization. “The goal,” she said, “is to have students come together to create a social network that helps enhance writing about tourism and increase pride in community.” Through the experience, students reinforced their civic commitment and simultaneously developed writing and rhetorical skills.

Education Professor David Stoloff

Addressing the theme of employability and civic engagement, Art and Art History Professor Terry Lennox’s students creatively design with the intent “to advance the communication and marketing outcomes of non-profit organizations. It is a collaborative, guided effort designed to learn the value of art and also show what we all can do, working together,” she said. Through these projects, students build portfolios, which contributes to their employability upon graduating.

Fatma Pakdil, associate professor of business administration, examined employability from a market perspective. She presented statistics showing that “only 11 percent of business leaders agree that today’s college graduates have the skills and competencies their businesses need, while 96 percent of chief academic officers say their institutions are very or somewhat effective at preparing students for the world of work.” Pakdil proposed affording students courses that enable students “to study on projects analyzing real problems, issues and bottlenecks faced by business organizations,” which she believes will better prepare students for the work place.

Associate Professor of Business Information Systems (BIS) Alex Citurs and student Rebekah Brancato, a BIS major, with a minor in Healthcare Informatics, showed how community-based projects help students gain practical experience and make meaningful contributions to communities. Students also gain insight into new ways of doing things and building relationships for future collaborations. The work in information systems that he and his students do, which many organizations cannot afford from professional consultants, improves the operations of non-profit organizations.

Education Professor David Stoloff examined pre-service education as a positive dimension of civic engagement. His students participate in projects in local school and community centers. They write reflections on these experiences at mid-term and at the end of the semester. Stoloff said the goal is to teach students “knowledge, skills, responsibility and commitment within social justice views of civic engagement.”

John Murphy, lecturer in the Department of Communication

John Murphy, lecturer in the Department of Communication, uses local radio, television, web sites, social and print media to demonstrate the value of service learning. Students use various media — digital platforms included — to share stories about the important assets of organizations and people served. This creates opportunities for students to build portfolios and provides information to the community on valuable, underutilized resources available in the community.

Geography Professor Patrick Vitale’s “Geography of Food” class made community-engagement research a campus project. Their results suggest that many students on campus experience food insecurity. The students examined the impact of food insecurity, the resources that are available to support students, and what other universities are doing to address this crisis. “Their research shows the political and educational potential of a class that engages students to take on a pressing concern in their community,” said Vitale.

Yolanda Bergstrom-Lynch, a campus librarian, said “It is vital that librarians have a seat at the table as service learning partners.” She introduced a “Service Learning and Community Engagement” library research guide that was created in collaboration with the Center for Community Engagement. The publication serves as a resource guide of the various ways in which librarians promote community engagement. “Librarians serve as bridges, connecting the library to other campus organizations and the campus community to service learning resources in the library.”

Eastern to Host 12th Day of Giving, Local Food Drives

Written by Shelby Eccleston

WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/02/2018) The 12th annual Day of Giving at Eastern Connecticut State University will occur on Nov. 21 from noon-2 p.m. in Hurley Hall. The event is open to Willimantic residents who may not have Thanksgiving plans otherwise. Preceding the Day of Giving, several food drives will occur at Windham grocery stores.

Day of Giving is a collaboration between the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the Office of Institutional Advancement and Chartwells, Eastern’s food service provider.

Turkey, stuffing and other traditional fixings will be donated by the ECSU Foundation and Chartwells. Staff from Chartwells will prepare food and decorate. More than 50 volunteers from Eastern – students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university – will serve food, provide transportation, welcome guests, run children’s activities and clean up.

Transportation will be provided free of charge from Ashton Towers at noon and from the Covenant Soup Kitchen at 12:15 p.m. Parking is available on campus, with handicapped spaces in the Student Center lot.

During the weekends preceding the event, the CCE will run food drives in the parking lots of local grocery stores. All donations go to the Covenant Soup Kitchen and other local food pantries.

Upcoming drives are on Nov. 3 and 4 at Bob’s Windham IGA; Nov. 10 and 11 at the Willimantic Food Co-op; and Nov. 17 and 18 at Stop and Shop on Main Street. Each drive goes from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Donation boxes will also be placed around campus beginning Nov. 1.

Last year’s Day of Giving hosted approximately 500 community members. “You can’t ask for a better humanitarian day for people that are less fortunate,” said one longtime Willimantic resident.

Poverty Awareness Marathon Raises 378 Food Items

KPE professors Charlie Chatterton and Ari de Wilde midway through the marathon.

Written by Raven Dillon

Eastern Connecticut State University held its 10th annual Poverty Awareness Marathon on Oct. 5. The event culminated with 197 members of the Eastern community who walked and ran to raise awareness, as well as 378 food items that were donated to the Covenant Soup Kitchen and Shawn’s Cupboard, Eastern’s on-campus food pantry.

Beginning at 7 a.m., marathon runners participated for as many laps around campus as their schedules permitted; some for a single lap (roughly 1.2 miles) others for a half-marathon (13 miles). Professor Charlie Chatterton, who has completed numerous marathons, exceeded by running 28 miles in approximately six hours.

Participants pose for a group photo before the 7 a.m. starting time

Chatterton teaches kinesiology and physical education (KPE). He has been involved in poverty awareness efforts for years, and has been instrumental in this event since the beginning. He encourages students to get involved in any way they can.

Aside from running or walking, the Eastern community donated nonperishable food items and students signed large, colorful posters, pledging to volunteer in upcoming events and to call attention to issues of poverty with their friends and family. Among them were several athletes from Eastern’s sports teams, including the men’s and women’s cross-country teams, men’s basketball and women’s lacrosse.

The marathon was organized by the Center for Community Engagement and the student organization People Helping People.