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Volunteers, 'itching to get out,' beautify town

Published on April 22, 2021

Volunteers, 'itching to get out,' beautify town

For more than three decades, Eastern students have distinguished themselves through their service to community. Since 1988, when former Eastern President David G. Carter first required students to give back to the community if they wanted to live in university residence halls, students gladly did so.

In 1990, students rode bicycles across the nation, participated in Relay for Life, Windham Special Olympics, served food at local soup kitchens, helped area residents with their taxes, participated in poverty marathons, clothing drives, road races and much more. Students said community service changed their lives.

Current Eastern President Elsa Nunez raised the bar on community service by establishing the Center for Community Engagement (CCE). Today, students, under the guidance of CCE director Kim Silcox, provide more than 25,000 hours annually of service to community. Now, service has become a hallmark of the university’s academic, liberal arts mission. Now, service is service learning. Faculty integrate the concept and activity into classroom projects. Students in residence halls compete for the Warrior’s Cup, the award given to residence halls whose students are the most engaged on campus.  

Volunteering The Center for Community Engagement’s normal community programs have all been virtual this year. These weekly programs, with organizations such as St. Joseph Living Center, Douglas Manor Nursing Center, Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery and more have met community needs by providing virtual interaction with guests and residents. But the students, including athletics teams, who have been virtually cooped up by following University COVID-19 safety protocols, were “itching to get outdoors”, said Silcox. The CCE has organized outdoor projects for every weekend this Spring. On March 20-21, nearly 20 members of the Men's Lacrosse team braved the rain and worked with the CCE and the Garden Club of Windham, to help cut back invasive Bittersweet vines along the Airline Trail in Willimantic.  

“We have had a great response from students looking to volunteer,” said Silcox. “We also have the Women’s Basketball, Women’s Swim teams and Men’s Soccer teams participating, along with student clubs. The Opportunity Scholars have been terrific!”

Garden Club of Windham volunteers keep many of the green spaces around Willimantic looking great, including Julia de Burgos Park, The Airline Trail, the new Greenway Project on High Street, Jillson House Butterfly Garden, Whitewater Park and more. “Our students are lucky to work alongside such dedicated volunteers,” said Silcox.

Volunteering Students clean out garden beds, plant fruit trees, spread wood chips and more.  They are also volunteering with community events such as the Windham Task Force Against Child Abuse and the CT Food Bank Mobile Food Pantry.

Before the invasive vines, the trail—stretching across eastern Connecticut from Thompson to East Hampton—according to its website (offered inspiring panoramas…to travelers, walkers, hikers, horseback riders and bikers from across the state to enjoy the views, relaxation and the solitude. ( The portion the students worked on is along the Willimantic River.

The CCE spread out the Earth Month projects that it would normally do during its Annual Town Pride, Town Wide Day, which is usually the last Saturday in April, but the pandemic prevented the CCE from transporting students and holding large events.

"Giving back to the community is not only an opportunity to do an act of kindness but an opportunity to be selfless as well,” said Jesse Mayreis ’23, of Glen Cove, NY, and a member of the Lacrosse team, majoring in communication with a concentration in media production. “We receive a lot in our lives whether we know it or not, so it's important to give back to the community and make the place where we live beautiful for not only ourselves but for our neighbors as well.”

Volunteering CCE Student Leader Tashieka Sangster ’23, a political science and criminology major from Hamden, said, “I enjoyed working with the men’s lacrosse team and the Garden Club of Windham. The men were very energetic and ready to get the job done despite the cold weather. Lacrosse team captain Jesse did a great job communicating with his teammates and me to make sure all the guys were able to find the trail! As for me personally, I enjoy giving back. Volunteering has always been a passion of mine. I’ve been able to meet new people and become more familiar with the community. I’ve learned so many essential life and employability skills through my role as a student leader, which will benefit me beyond Eastern.

Windham Garden Project Director Jean De Smet is overjoyed at the collaboration. “Eastern and its students are community partners with Windham in every sense of the word.  We hope that we are providing a learning experience, while they provide us with physical labor.  The volunteers are hard workers, willing to get their hands dirty, but also asking good questions. And I mean every word. This year the students are better than ever.”

“Eastern students have shown up on a dozen occasions over the last three years to help the 325 Trees/Shrubs Project add to our beauty and clean air in Willimantic,” said Faith Kenton, coordinator of the project. “They also have worked with the weeding of our public spaces, planting perennials, spreading protective mulch, and caring for their adopted town. Some are experienced gardeners. Those who are not are learning to make their living spaces better.”

Volunteering Head Track and Field Coach Kathy Manizza said she always talks to the athletes on her team about giving back to the community.  Several times a week, the team runs a loop that goes from campus down High Street past the track, left on Pleasant Valley Road, left on Mansfield Ave and back to campus, a 4-mile “easy day” run. 

“We are a team that is brought together by our love of track and field, and we support each other as a family.  As a family, we also want to support our athletics department, the University, and of course, the community we live in. A couple of the students pointed out to me that a section of road that we run regularly as part of our practice—loaded with trash, was disgusting. So we all gathered—39 athletes— at the University at 9 a.m. We provided garbage bags, gloves and a pickup truck.  We divided the team into groups and had each group cover approximately a half mile on both sides of the road.  By 10:30, we had taken 3 pickup trucks full of trash to the dumpster!  This section of road looks beautiful right now, and hopefully it can stay that way for a while. It was our way of showing respect and thanks to the community we live in.”

Written by Dwight Bachman