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CCE holds first Service Expo since 2019

Published on April 20, 2022

CCE holds first Service Expo since 2019

Silcox urges students to take authentic path

Student Tashieka Sangster shows President Nunez her work.

The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at Eastern Connecticut State University honored five members of the campus and local communities for their exemplary service during its Annual Service Expo and Awards Ceremony on April 18. The ceremony, held in the foyer of the Fine Arts Instructional Center, also showcased the work of students and student leaders who have volunteered at more than 15 community organizations in the Windham area over the past year.

 CCE Director Kim Silcox, who is retiring after two decades of distinguished service at Eastern, also gave remarks. This was the CCE’s first in-person expo since 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted campus life at Eastern in spring 2020.

Honorees included Sociology Professor Nicolas Simon (Service Learning Award) and Dianisi Torres of the Puentes al Futuro program (Community Program Award). The CCE also presented Community Engagement Awards to Chinindozi Tocci, site coordinator at Windham Center School Before/After School Program; Education Professor Laura Rodriguez; and Muneeb Butt ’25, volunteer at the Dr. Helen H. Baldwin Middle School Boys Mentoring Program and Shawn’s Cupboard.

Dianisi Torres, program coordinator of Puentes al Futuro, received of the Outstanding Community Event Award, presented by CCE Program Coordinator Lexie Mastroianni.

Sociology Professor Nicolas Simon recieved the Service Learning Award.

Student volunteer Muneeb Butt, winner of the Student Community Engagement Award, and student leader Elliot Lawrence IV

Professor Laura Rodriguez of the Department. of Education, won the Faculty/Staff Community Engagement Award, presented by CCE Associate Director Lana O’Connor.

Chindozi Tocci, site coordinator at Windham Center School, won the Community Partner Community Engagement Award, presented by student leader Issa Ayala.

Simon has been a long-time friend and partner of the CCE, incorporating service learning into his classrooms for many years. This year, the CCE implemented a curriculum designed by Simon, with 80 Eastern students volunteering 875 hours to bring books and activities each week to after-school programs at several Windham Public Schools. The curriculum helped children build understanding and excitement about community engagement and encouraged involvement in their own neighborhoods. The program was funded by generous grants from the Liberty Bank Foundation and Windham Public Schools.

“As an educator, community service is fundamental to the learning experience I provide to my students,” said Simon. “They develop many skills, especially communication, leadership and problem-solving. They can transfer these skills to a professional setting and develop a professional network that will help them gain employment after graduation.”

The Outstanding Community Event Award is given to a community partner that creates positive change in their students’ lives and continues to support the Windham communities, while demonstrating ways to continue to improve the lives of others. Through Puentes al Futuro, Torres leads and encourages others to become involved in meaningful acts of service. “Community service is my passion,” said Torres. “I love my community. I wish every student has a great experience in school.”

Eastern students, faculty and staff gather in the Fine Arts Instructional Center (FAIC).

As recipient of the Community Partner Community Engagement Award, Tocci was recognized for his service in a program that will have a lasting impact on the Windham community. “My continued partnership with the volunteers from the CCE has been a wonderful highlight to the after-school experience for the children at Windham Center School,” said Tocci. “I cannot stress enough how much the volunteers’ presence enriches the children’s time spent with us.”

A Pre-Social Work major and a minor in communications, Butt is a resident assistant at Winthrop Hall. The CCE honored him with the Student Community Engagement Award for his active participation in clubs on campus, including the Men’s Track and Field Team, and for continuingly volunteering for the CCE.

“It is fulfilling to volunteer and see the smiles on faces of those impacted by simply putting in a few hours a week,” said Butt.  “I’ve always wanted to help people in small ways and by doing so, little by little, it will hopefully create a dent in this world one day.”

Rodriguez received the Outstanding Community Event Award because of her belief that service learning is an integral component of her teaching, evident since she arrived at Eastern in 2019. During the past three years as an assistant professor of education specializing in K-12 science education, Rodriguez’s students have engaged in 290 volunteer hours in Windham schools and beyond.

Even during the pandemic, her students continued participating in service learning by incorporating technology into their volunteer efforts when going to schools was no longer possible. Over the past two semesters, Rodriguez’s students created video recordings for elementary schools in an effort to support schoolchildren when they needed it most.

“Community service is important to me for many reasons,” said Rodriguez. “It is a form of experiential learning that you cannot get from books. It provides a way to get outside of yourself and see life from other people’s eyes. It helps develop empathy, responsibility and connections to one’s community.”

Professor Nicolas Simon (expo judge), Kit Andersen, Carlos Castro, Martha Castillo-Mercado, Yamileth Jarquin Yescas (CCE student leaders and winners of the Broadening Horizons Award), and Eastern alumna Rebecca Quelle (expo judge)

Expo judge Kelly Mills of CCAR, student leader Tashieka Sangster, winner of the Leadership Development Award for her program at the Dr. Helen H. Baldwin Middle School Girls Mentoring Program, and Dean of Students Kemesha Wilmot (expo judge)

Diana Lopez, site coordinator at Barrows STEM Academy (expo judge) and student leader Camryn Tyson, winner of the Strengthening Communities Award, and Professor Laura Rodriguez (expo judge)

Expo judge Shannon Perry, graduate intern in the Office of AccessAbility Services, student leader Carlos Castro, winner of the Kids First Award for his program at Sweeney Elementary School, and Dianisi Torres, program Coordinator of Puentes al Futuro

Eastern students get a big kick out of volunteering and enjoy helping others in many ways. Student leader Olivia Gardner ’25, an English major, washes fruits and vegetables and prepares dishes at the Covenant Soup Kitchen. “I like the friendly atmosphere — volunteers from many backgrounds — and learning how to cook.”

Student leader Carlos Castro ’24 majors in Business Information Systems, and helps at the Sweeney Elementary After School Program, which serves 25 kids in kindergarten to grade 5. “I like the aspect of running my own program and creating activities for the kids, helping them to develop self-care and self-love,” said Castro. “I love their creativity.” 

Social Work major Kit Andersen ’23 helps out in the Windham Center After School and Reading Program. “The kids are fantastic; they have so much energy and are always happy to see us. This program has been a great opportunity to build on the skills we learn in the classroom.”  

Expo wide shot

Student leader Issa Ayala’23 majors in finance and also helps in Windham Center’s reading program. “We have the advantage of working with a few children at a time, and can really develop a one-on-one connection. The kids’ reading levels are improving. At the beginning of the program, no one wanted to read, now they all jump at the chance to read out loud.”

In her keynote address, CCE Director Silcox drew on the iconic book “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho to offer lessons to the audience. “Find your own path,” said Silcox, “one that means something to you alone.” Silcox was a lawyer in Maryland for 12 years, and taught law classes at the University of Connecticut and Central Connecticut State University. Law and jurisprudence was second nature to her. “That would have been the easiest path. But volunteerism has always been part of my nature.”

Kim Silcox
Kim Silcox, director for the Center of Community Engagement (CECE). 

Silcox served as a volunteer in college and later as a student leader of a tutoring program in Baltimore. “Experiencing poverty and violence in a large city was something I had never known before. But I learned from people whose commitment to the children was exemplary.”

Silcox also told the audience, “When you really want something, the universe always conspires in your favor. She described when her 12-year-old son Matthew was ill with leukemia in what was a three-year ordeal.

“The uncertainty of whether your child will live or die is shattering.” She received widespread support from faculty, staff and students. Friends and neighbors helped, including building a wheelchair ramp to her front door. “I learned throughout this terrible time to appreciate large and small kindnesses so selflessly given. I am happy to tell you that Matt is turning 30 in June, he graduated from college and works as a graphic designer!”

Since 2009, Silcox has led the Center for Community Engagement, turning a four-hour per semester requirement for resident students at Eastern into a major force on campus and in Willimantic. Silcox said over the past 13 years, nearly 10,000 students have participated in weekly and one-time events and have given 190,000 hours of service to the community. In today’s dollars, that amounts to nearly $5.5 million contributed to the local community.

Eastern students have gone from providing 6,000 hours of service in 2009 to more than 27,000 hours of service in academic year 2018-19, the last full year before the pandemic. Nearly 2,000 students have participated in service-learning courses, completing more than 26,000 hours of service that has enriched their classroom experiences.

In concluding, Silcox said, “A personal legend is your life’s spiritual purpose. It’s a calling that awakens a deep desire and passion to live with a sense of purpose for something greater than yourself. The lesson of ‘The Alchemist’ is to pursue your individual dreams.”


Written by Dwight Bachman