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Student volunteerism recognized at annual CCE Expo

Published on April 12, 2023

Student volunteerism recognized at annual CCE Expo

Lana O'Connor with student awardee Cailey Soper and award judge Elliot Lawrence

Jean de Smet, left, a judge, with Broadening Horizons award winners, l to r, Issa Ayala, Meghan Georgescu, Alysha Wedler, Alyssa Tracey, and fellow judge Shastity Rios

Joshua Sumrell, left, and Jenna Pettiti, right, were judges for the Kids First award accepted by student volunteer Olivia Gardner, center.

Lana O'Connor, left, with Community Partner awardee presenter Issa Ayala, center, and awardee Kelly Mills, right

Dwayne Cameron, left, a judge, with leadership awardees Dianarys Serrano and Kit Anderson, and judge Sarah Tompkins, right

Community service was on display at the annual Center for Community Engagement (CCE) Expo at Eastern Connecticut State University on April 10, where students collected awards for their service and exhibited posters describing their 8,421 volunteer hours in the Willimantic area this year.

“Be concerned about people – the impact you have on their lives,” said keynote speaker Shastity Rios, director of school and site-based programs for Big Brothers-Big Sisters of Connecticut.

That impact was evident as the students described their projects.

Amilya Williams, a sophomore CCE student leader, volunteers at St. Joseph Senior Living Center and at the Sweeney Elementary after-school program. At Sweeney she helps 20 children in grades K-5 with homework, snack time, games and crafts. She tries to promote social skills and learning in the activities.

“The kids don’t know they’re getting life skills – they just think they’re having a blast,” she said.

Williams won the CCE’s Supporting our Schools award for her work at Sweeney. At the senior center, with five other students she sets up FaceTime calls or pen pal activities and talks with seniors. Her talks with a senior center patron named Ruth have been enlightening, she said.

“She tells me everything under the sun – about her childhood, her birthday plans.”

Kit Anderson ’23 and Dianarys Serrano ’23 won the Leadership Development award for their work in a positive enrichment program at Windham Middle School. Anderson, a social work major, works with 10 to 15 students on a STEAM program (STEM plus art). Serrano, a business and marketing major, works with the middle-schoolers on mental health skills and resources. Besides on-site work at the school, the programs require hours of planning, the students said. Serrano, who is from Willimantic, attended Windham Middle School herself, and Anderson, who grew up in Willimantic and Mansfield, said he volunteered to make a bigger impact in this area.

Meghan Georgescu, a first-year student, volunteered at Covenant Soup Kitchen, continuing work she did growing up in Cheshire, where she volunteered at a food pantry 

“It’s benefited me in so many ways,” she said of volunteering. “It’s rewarding and empowering to connect with the Willimantic community.”

Lana O'Connor, left, with community event awardee Jean de Smet and presenter Amanda McFarlin, right

Lana O'Connor, left, with community engagement awardee Sarah Tompkins and presenter Meghan Georgescu, right

Jodi-Ann Green, left, judge, with Dr. Laura Rodriguez and Amanda McFarlin for the Strengthening Communities award

Amberlee Cubanski, left, a judge, with student Amilya Williams and judge Kelly Mills, right, for the Supporting our Schools award

Cailey Soper, a sophomore English major, won the CCE’s Student Community Engagement award for volunteering for many CCE programs in her first two years at Eastern. This semester she is working at the No Freeze center for the homeless. Before she came to Eastern, she volunteered at a Best Buddies program in her hometown, Guilford. At Eastern, she began volunteering as part of a class last spring, and she enjoyed it so much that she decided to continue. She plans to become a high school English teacher.

Samantha Musella, a first-year criminology major, and Valerie Rosario, a first-year psychology major, work with pre-kindergarten students in the JumpStart program at the Windham Early Childhood Center.

“The kids are so amazing,” said Rosario, who is a CCE student leader. She recruited Musella, her roommate, to join her in the program.

That model has made Eastern’s CCE more successful than community service programs at other colleges, said Lana O’Connor, CCE associate director. CCE leaders are paid as student workers, but they must recruit other students to help them, so they are motivated. This year 552 students volunteered in the Windham area, many for more than one program.

Community leaders and faculty were also honored at the Expo. Jean de Smet, long active in community activities, won the Outstanding Community Event award. With help from Eastern students, she organizes an annual program to haul mulch, pick up trash and plant trees and plants.

Shastity Rios, keynote speaker

Olivia Gardner, program. host

Stacey Brown, lecturer in sociology, won the Service Learning award. For the past 20 years, she has worked to implement curricula promoting an understanding of social, economic and political factors that affect health. Each semester she invites CCE students to her class to talk about service learning. She is also an associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine.

Women’s Soccer Head Coach Sarah Tompkins, who involves her team with the Town Pride Town Wide event each year, won the Faculty/Staff Community Engagement Award. Kelly Mills, volunteer manager for the Windham Recovery Community Center, won the Community Partner Community Engagement award.

Other student volunteer awards included the Broadening Horizons award, which went to the Connecticut Community for Addition Recovery project; the Strengthening Communities award, which went to the Nutmeg Big Brothers/Big Sisters program; and the Kids First award, which went to the North Windham after-school program.

Written by Lucinda Weiss