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.

Eastern to Beautify Willimantic during ‘Town Pride, Town Wide’

Written by Kim Silcox

WILLIMANTIC, CT (04/18/2018) On Saturday, April 28, Eastern Connecticut State University will host its 10th annual “Town Pride, Town Wide” community beautification event. The event will take place at various project sites across Willimantic from 9:00a.m. to 12:00 p.m.

Eastern students at a previous Town Pride, Town Wide event:

Town Pride, Town Wide started years ago as a means to give Eastern students the opportunity to work closely with local community members and community agencies to leave their mark on Willimantic. This event is a collaboration between Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the Windham Region Chamber of Commerce, Willimantic Waste Paper Co. and the Town of Windham. The CCE looks to send more than 150 Eastern student volunteers to more than 25 project locations in the greater Windham area on the day of the event.

Eastern students at a previous Town Pride, Town Wide event

Eastern Connecticut alumni from the Becket Chimney Corners YMCA in Becket, MA, have been invited to participate in the event as well, through the organization’s “Deeds of Love and Service” program which will provide community service throughout New England on April 28.

Community sites include Lauter Park Community Gardens, CLiCK Willimantic, Veterans Memorial Park in Andover, Willimantic Whitewater Park, St. Joseph Living Center, the Airline Trail, the Windham Textile and History Museum, the Garden on the Bridge, and more.

Town Pride, Town Wide is funded in part by The Last Green Valley, Inc. More than 150 Eastern students will turn out for the event, which is the largest volunteer event of the year for Eastern.

Eastern WarriorTHON to benefit Connecticut Children’s Hospital

Written by Michael Rouleau

WILLIMANTIC, CT (03/27/2018) Eastern Connecticut State University will host its first-ever WarriorTHON dance marathon on April 7 from 5-11 p.m. in the Geissler Gymnasium. In affiliation with Miracle Network Dance Marathon, all proceeds will benefit the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. Members of the public are invited to the event.

In addition to a night of dancing, WarriorTHON will include food, games, raffles, guest speakers and student performances. Event organizers are expecting several family members of children’s hospital patients to attend to share their stories.

Lauren Landry poses for a photo at another Eastern fundraising event for Be the Match, the nation’s largest marrow registry.

The chief organizer of WarriorTHON is Eastern student Lauren Landry, a sophomore psychology major from Rumford, RI. “I understand firsthand the impact that these donations have on patients of children’s hospitals, as I was a child in that hospital bed may years ago,” said Landry, who has had three open-heart surgeries. “I want to make an impact on every child’s hospital stay, and help them understand that we support them.”

Registration is $5 per person and will occur at 4 p.m. on April 7, or in advance, online at https://events.dancemarathon.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=donorDrive.event&eventID=2910. Participants can register individually or as a team.

Each registrant will have their own online donation portal, to which family members and friends can donate. Those who are interested but cannot attend are encouraged to register at the link above, as all donations will contribute to the WarriorTHON total. More than $7,000 has already been raised-the goal is $10,000 for this inaugural event.

“If we raise more than $10,000, WarriorTHON will be the first first-year Miracle Network Dance Marathon in Connecticut to raise that much money,” said Landry. “We are so close to our goal and any donation will help!”

For more information, contact ecsuWarriorTHON@gmail.com.

Miracle Network Dance Marathon is a movement benefitting Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, a non-profit organization that raises funds and awareness for more than 170 pediatric hospitals across North America (of which Connecticut Children’s Medical Center is a part). Since its inception, Miracle Network Dance Marathon has raised more than $200 million for children across North America who are fighting pediatric illness and injury.

 

Eastern Makes “College Consensus” List of Top Colleges in Connecticut

Written by Ed Osborn

WILLIMANTIC, CT (01/26/2018) College Consensus, a unique new college review aggregator, has recognized Eastern Connecticut State University in its ranking of “Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18.” Eastern was ranked in the top 10 schools in Connecticut, and was one of only two public institutions chosen, the University of Connecticut being the other.

To identify the Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18, College Consensus averaged the latest results from the most respected college ranking systems, including U.S. News and World Report among others, along with thousands of student review scores, to produce a unique rating for each school. Read about the organization’s methodology at https://www.collegeconsensus.com/about.

“Congratulations on making the list of Best Colleges in Connecticut for 2017-18,” said Carrie Sealey-Morris, managing editor of College Consensus. “Your inclusion in our ranking shows that your school has been recognized for excellence by both publishers on the outside and students and alumni on the inside.”

Part of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities System, Eastern began its life in 1889 as a public normal school. Today the University is recognized as one of top 25 public universities in the North Region by U.S. News & World Report, and has been named one of the nation’s Green Colleges eight years in a row by the Princeton Review.

Eastern is Connecticut’s public liberal arts college, with a student body of 5,300 students; more than 90 percent of Eastern’s students are from Connecticut. Eastern’s size gives its students an uncommon degree of individualized attention, aided by a 15:1 student/faculty ratio and a strong commitment to student success.

In addition to a strong liberal art foundation, Eastern has many opportunities for students to engage in practical, hands-on learning, ranging from internships to study abroad, community service and undergraduate research. For instance, Eastern has sent more student researchers to the competitive National Conference on Undergraduate Research in the past four years than all the other public universities in Connecticut combined. In 2018, 41 of the 44 students from Connecticut who will present their research at the conference in April are from Eastern.

With its history, Eastern is also one of Connecticut’s foremost educators of teachers, and its professional studies and continuing education programs have made it an important institution for Connecticut’s working adults.

To see Eastern’s College Consensus profile, visit https://www.collegeconsensus.com/school/eastern-connecticut-state-university.

Eastern’s Day of Giving on Nov. 22

Retired State Senator Edith Prague, left, Student Health Services Director Robert Jennette Robert and Kinesiology and Physical Education Professor Nanette Tummers serve food at Day of Giving last year.

Retired State Senator Edith Prague, left, Student Health Services Director Robert Jennette Robert and Kinesiology and Physical Education Professor Nanette Tummers serve food at Day of Giving last year.

                               

                                   Media Advisory: Eastern to Host 11th Annual Day of Giving

WILLIMANTIC, CT (11/21/2017) Eastern Connecticut State University’s 11th annual Day of Giving will occur on Nov. 22 in Hurley Hall. The event is open to Willimantic residents who might not otherwise enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. The meal will be served from 12-2 p.m.

This major community event-which served more than 700 guests last year-is a collaboration between Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the Office of Institutional Advancement and Chartwells, Eastern’s food service provider.

The festive spread of turkey, stuffing and all the traditional fixings will be donated by the ECSU Foundation and Chartwells. Chartwells staff will donate their time to prepare the food and decorate the dining hall. More than 50 volunteers from the Eastern community-students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university-will serve food, provide transportation, welcome guests, lead children’s activities and clean up.

During the weeks leading up to the Day of Giving, the CCE has been conducting food drives at area grocery stores. Additionally, collection boxes have been placed throughout the Eastern campus in residence halls, classroom buildings and administration buildings. Donations will go to the Covenant Soup Kitchen and other local food pantries. Area grocery stores that participated include the Willimantic Food Co-op, Bob’s IGA in South Windham, Stop & Shop in East Hampton in Uncasville, and Better Value Super Market in Canterbury.

Additionally, collection boxes have been placed throughout the Eastern campus in residence halls, classroom buildings and administration buildings. Last year, 859 food items were donated on campus; the goal for this year is 1,000 items.

(NOTE TO NEWS MEDIA: This event has great visuals and lots of interview opportunities. It is a nice “feel good” human interest/community service story for print, radio, television and Internet media alike. Come join us!)

Education for Democracy at Eastern

•Rick Battistoni leads the conference's keynote discussion

Rick Battistoni leads the conference’s keynote discussion

Written by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Connecticut State University hosted its second annual Civic Action Conference on Nov. 8. to dissect the practice of “service learning” and its impact on students and society. Service learning is a mutually beneficial teaching strategy that aligns classroom learning with community efforts. Organized by the Center for Community Engagement, the conference featured insights from Eastern faculty and students – Rick Battistoni, who teaches public/community service studies at Providence College, was the keynote speaker.

•Professor Terry Lennox presents on her class's service learning work with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp

Professor Terry Lennox presents on her class’s service learning work with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp.

“Why connect classroom to community?” asked Terry Lennox, digital art and design professor. She had three answers: Working in the real world accelerates the learning process. Secondly, when students can see their impact, they realize the value of their work. Thirdly, service learning is great for portfolios and resumes.

For several years, Lennox has led the Eastern Design Group (a capstone course for seniors) on digital design projects with local nonprofits and community organizations. Among their endeavors, students have designed a permanent exhibit at the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Ashford, as well as created designs for a gala at Windham Hospital and the nonprofit Grow Windham.

•An Eastern student presents on her service learning work with the Windham Region No Freeze shelter.

•An Eastern student presents on her service learning work with the Windham Region No Freeze shelter.

Speaking to service learning in general, Lennox added, “students benefit by increasing their depth of pre-professional experiences, as well as gaining the reward of successfully working together and seeing their individual talents bring about positive change.”

Communication Professor Denise Matthews has taught a video field production course for 14 years, in which students produce videos for local organizations. “While the quality of the work is very important,” she says, “the experience that students acquire in the process of working as a professional with a client may be the most important component of their learning experience.”

Business Administration Professor Fatma Pakdil brings her students to collaborate with local businesses to analyze operations management topics. “We focus on their business problems and projects so students can see the real-life application of topics covered in the classroom,” she said. “Having a real case with various topics to work on is more challenging and informative, and shows students what they can expect after graduation.”

Keynote speaker Rick Battistoni took the stage for his talk, “Community or Political Engagement? Educating for Democracy in Troubled Times.” “Our current political landscape is full of craters and our discourse has become more polarized,” he said, adding that “voter turnout is abysmally low, especially among college-aged people, for a country that I like to think of as a democracy.”

Battistoni is confident that well-implemented service learning in higher education can counter this civic disengagement, saying that “community engagement is indeed education for democracy.”

In order for this to come to fruition, however, Battistoni says service learning must satisfy three things: purpose, accountability and time.

He explained that classroom goals must clearly align with the goals of the community partner (purpose); the impact must be measured (accountability); and the programs must be long enough to develop meaningful relationships and knowledge (time). “It must be sustained and developmental,” he said, “not just a one-and-done.”

This concept of “time” aligned with the conference’s opening presentation on Eastern’s soon-to-be-formalized Civic Action Plan, which aims to “institutionalize” the practice of service learning. The plan will expand service learning and community engagement opportunities at Eastern; create an academic minor in civic engagement; develop a committee on community-engaged teaching and learning; and reinforce the practice by recognizing and rewarding service learning achievements.

“Eastern has always had a longstanding relationship with the community; it just hasn’t always been organized,” said Kim Silcox, director of the Center for Community Engagement, which acts as a bridge between the campus and the surrounding community. “This plan broadens and refines the work that’s already been happening on campus.”

 

Eastern’s Day of Giving is Nov. 22

DAY OF GIVING 2017-FILEEastern Connecticut State University’s 11th annual Day of Giving will occur on Nov. 22 in Hurley Hall. The event is open to Willimantic residents who might not otherwise enjoy a Thanksgiving meal. The meal will be served from 12-2 p.m.

The major community event-which served more than 700 guests last year-is a collaboration between Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE), the Office of Institutional Advancement and Chartwells, Eastern’s food service provider.

The festive spread of Turkey, stuffing and all the traditional fixings will be donated by the ECSU Foundation and Chartwells. Chartwells staff will donate their time to prepare the food and decorate the dining hall. More than 50 volunteers from the Eastern community-students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university-will serve food, provide transportation, welcome guests, lead children’s activities and clean up.

During the four weeks leading up to the Day of Giving, the CCE will conduct food drives at area grocery stores. Donations will go to the Covenant Soup Kitchen and other local food pantries. Upcoming drives include the Willimantic Food Co-op on Nov. 4 and 5; Bob’s IGA in South Windham on Nov. 11; Stop & Shop in East Hampton on Nov. 12; and Stop & Shop in Uncasville on Nov. 18 and 19. Volunteers will collect items from 10am to 2pm on each day.

Last weekend’s food drive, which took place at the Canterbury Better Value Super Market, 575 food items totaling 702 pounds were collected, along with $96 in cash donations.

Additionally, collection boxes have been placed throughout the Eastern campus in residence halls, classroom buildings and administration buildings. Last year, 859 food items were donated on campus; the goal for this year is 1,000 items.

Eastern’s Civic Action Conference

civic_action_conferenceWritten by Michael Rouleau

Eastern Connecticut State University will host its second annual Civic Action Conference on Nov. 8 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Student Center. The conference will focus on “service learning,” an educational strategy that aligns classroom learning with community efforts. Presentations will be delivered by service learning experts, including Eastern faculty and keynote speaker Rick Battistoni, who teaches public/community service studies at Providence College.

Morning presentations will occur in the Betty R. Tipton Room of the Student Center; afternoon presentations take place in the Student Center Theatre. The program schedule is as follows:

Registration is at 8:30 a.m. The conference will begin at 9 a.m. with a presentation on Eastern’s Civic Action Plan, followed from 9:30 to 11 a.m. by a presentation on “The Pedagogies of Service Learning.” A presentation on “The Collaborative Practice of Service Learning” will go from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., followed by a break for lunch

From 1:30 to 3 p.m., “The Research and Creation of Service Learning” will be presented, followed by Battistoni’s keynote speech, “Community or Political Engagement? Education for Democracy in Troubled Times,” from 3 to 4 p.m.

The conference is free and open to the public, with attendees encouraged to come and go as their schedules permit. Advanced registration, which will include lunch, can be completed online at http://www.questionpro.com/a/TakeSurvey?tt=bu4pQryePUM%3D. Please register by Friday, Nov. 3. The Civic Action Conference is organized by Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement.

‘Thread City’ Dazzles Audiences with Unique Tale of Immigration

 

Written by Michael Rouleau

The ever-relevant topic of immigration was on dramatic display from Oct. 11-15 when Eastern Connecticut State University premiered “Thread City,” a unique performance that “told” stories of the immigrants who came to Willimantic to work in its historic thread mills. The dialogue-free play blended choreographed movement, visual projections and folky-electronic soundscapes to convey a heartfelt and historically representative tale of immigration in America.

In their 19th- and 20th-century heyday, Willimantic’s thread mills were among the largest producers of textiles in the world. They were major employers in northeastern Connecticut, drawing workers from New England and beyond. Willimantic became a hotbed of immigration. According to U.S. Census data, 29 percent of Windham residents were foreign born in 1910, with people from 26 different nations living in town.

“Thread City” opens with a stage that represents many different countries and eras. Multiple scenes that happen simultaneously fade in and out of action as a spotlight moves about the stage. As the setting shifts to a turbulent transcontinental boat ride, the performance space eventually comes to represent Willimantic exclusively – including its homes and the hazardous work environment of the mills.

Due to the multicultural theme of “Thread City,” it was important to the creators to devise a play that would transcend language. Using “moment work” – a theatrical technique in which individual moments are dissected and explored – actors conveyed the stories of immigrants without the use of words.

Several years of research and preparation went into “Thread City,” which involved visiting historical sites, researching testimonies of past residents and interviewing current Willimantic residents. Theatre Professors Kristen Morgan and Alycia Bright-Holland, co-creators of the production, traveled to Quebec and Puerto Rico – the origins of two of the largest ethnic groups to migrate to Willimantic – and led a class trip Ellis Island in New York City.

“Wandering through the beautifully curated exhibits at the Ellis Island museum inspired our students to create all sorts of new ‘moments’ when we returned to campus,” wrote Morgan and Bright-Holland, who led moment-work workshops and co-taught two upper-level theatre courses to prepare for “Thread City.”

Intimate scenes of the immigrant experience – from leaving heartbroken family members, to being inspected by immigration officers who bark orders in an unfamiliar tongue, to being reunited with family in their new home – were conveyed with precise gestures and emotion-filled facial expressions.

“The method of storytelling in ‘Thread City’ was an attempt at universal communication,” said student Matt Bessette ’19, the play’s dramaturge. “Its characters were direct portrayals of historical individuals of various backgrounds and time periods. The overall spectacle demonstrates the thematic elements of individuality and unity – the idea of being alone and yet, at the same time, together.”

 

While “Thread City” would not fall under the genre of “musical,” rhythm and soundscapes play a star role in advancing the story. “This project drove me to immerse myself in the folk music of the major immigrant groups of Willimantic,” said composer Travis Houldcroft, media specialist at Eastern. “I strove to develop music that fit the show but was also exemplary of my own style.”

Houldcroft’s compositions, which he performed live, were played on banjo and guitar, as well as a laptop, which he used to loop sounds and manipulate effects. “This allowed me to integrate elements of string instrumentation as well as experimental electronic effects into the score. This aesthetics bleeds into the design of the soundscape.”

Adding to the overall musicality of “Thread City,” the cast of more than 20 characters – who seem to share the stage for the bulk of the show – added to the soundscapes with rhythmic knee slaps, toe taps and choreographed, dance-like movement.

To make “Thread City” a reality, Morgan and Bright-Holland partnered with members of the Eastern campus, as well as residents of several local communities. Among them, representatives of the Windham Textile and History Museum helped describe what life was like for mill workers more than a century ago. Several staff and faculty from Eastern gave insights into their own immigrant experiences, connected the production team with valuable community members, and shared knowledge of various historic migrations.

Beyond entertainment and message, “Thread City” perhaps had a nobler cause: to further unite the local community. “With the privilege of having a beautiful building dedicated to the arts,” wrote Morgan and Bright-Holland, in reference to Eastern’s new Fine Arts Instructional Center, “comes the responsibility of serving the community with that space.

“We discussed the idea of a performance created specifically for Willimantic – not something simply ‘for’ the community, but something that would engage residents so that they might see themselves truly reflected and represented on stage.

“Today more than ever, we need that physical and emotional connection to one another,” they concluded. “Theatre has the power to transform, to heal, to activate and ultimately to create social and political change.”

 

Eastern Relay for Life Impacts Many

Written by Jordan Corey

relay-for-life-logoCancer fighters, survivors and supporters came out in force on Oct. 14 for the annual Relay for Life of Greater Windham, which has generated more than $78,000 in donations. Hosted at the sports complex at Eastern Connecticut State University, the event achieved its goal of raising money and commemorating loved ones and caretakers.

Over the course of the nearly 12-hour event, Eastern’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) deployed 36 students who volunteered more than 150 hours. They helped with the overall set up and break down, basket raffle, gear store, luminaria and children’s activities like face painting.

CCE student leader Carly Perron spoke of her goal for students: “We encourage students to talk to the survivors,” she said, believing that it’s important to learn from survivors’ stories.

The Relay for Life evokes a strong sense of community in Windham. “It’s a milestone,” commented one survivor. She emphasized the fact that until somebody actually has cancer, there is no way of knowing what it’s really like, and while every experience is individualized, there is meaning behind survivors coming together as a group. She also highlighted the true significance of caregivers in the life of a cancer patient, and their consequent role in the relay. “If it wasn’t for my husband and daughter,” she said, “I would have starved.”

Eastern Relay for Life Volunteers

Eastern Relay for Life Volunteers

In addition to physical support, the aforementioned survivor addressed the need for emotional support when dealing with cancer for a plethora of reasons. One obstacle she touched on was the stigma surrounding having short hair as a middle-aged woman. At first, she felt self-conscious about it, but over time she learned to accept and even embrace how she looks. “Cancer doesn’t care, so I don’t care.”

Another survivor at last weekend’s relay, an army veteran, overcame stage-four stomach cancer and spoke about the toll that comes with undergoing chemotherapy treatment. “It almost killed me the first few rounds,” she said, revealing that she eventually turned to a shaman in Panama for answers, where she was stationed at the time. Within months, she was in remission. Though many of her family members have stopped regularly attending Relay for Life over time, this survivor has been involved in the event for 20 years. “It means everything.”

This notion of solidarity is further displayed during the luminaria ceremony. Luminaria are white paper bags with names written on them in recognition of those who have fought, are actively fighting or have lost their lives to cancer. They are lit at each Relay for Life to allow people to grieve, reflect and find hope.

Donations for the 2017 Greater Windham County Relay for Life may continue to trickle in until Dec. 30. To donate and for more information, visit www.relayforlife.org/windhamct.

Each year more than 5,000 communities and 27 countries take part in Relay for Life, the signature fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. Since its inception, Relay for Life has accumulated nearly $5 billion in donations.