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CCE student leaders reflect on supporting local community

Published on October 18, 2023

CCE student leaders reflect on supporting local community

Student leaders at the addiction and recovery program

CCE Training at the Woodstock camp

CCE leaders at the YMCA camp of Woodstock

The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) at Eastern Connecticut State University provides many opportunities for students to volunteer around Willimantic. From after-school to pen pal programs, students can help in ways that center around their abilities and interests.  

Nikki Flynn ’25 shared her experience acting as a CCE leader, where she oversees training for volunteers and maintains contact with community partners and staff. Her job as a CCE leader is to ensure that members of minority and sensitive groups are treated with respect and that students are informed about the various situations they can encounter. 

“I think that volunteering in a place like the Covenant Soup Kitchen helps to dispel many of the myths surrounding those experiencing homelessness, showing the reality of the situation rather than the misconceptions,” Flynn said. “Even though we are not always directly interacting with guests, we know that the work we are doing is for people in need and is having a large impact on the community.” 

Many students choose to help young kids in after-school programs around Connecticut. CCE leaders Olivia Gardner ’25, Nicole Leyner ’25 and Kathryn Kubisek ’24 recounted their experiences in engaging with students in middle and high schools. 

“We support the children and teachers in our community, as well as their families,” said Leyner. “I can see the impact we’ve made in the community when the kids run up to me and ask what we’re doing today, seeing the kid's growth from the beginning to end of our program, and watching connections form.” 

“The goal of my after-school programs are to provide role models and mentors for these students in these transitioning phases of their lives," Gardner said. “The goal is to be whatever the youth need us to be, whether that be a tutor, a friend, a sounding board, or an advisor. We are there to help these students navigate their way through school and life.” 

CCE leaders at the University of Massachusetts for the Impact National Conference

Student leaders at the student involvement fair

Kubisek also leads various programs through the CCE, including Sweeney After School, the Windham Recovery Center and the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), and she sends volunteers to Windham Hospital. 

At the recovery centers, students listen to the stories of those who have struggled with addiction. They decorate the space, making it inviting for those in attendance, and sit in meetings where they can give support.  

“The goal of the program is to aid in the recovery of the guests in whatever way we can,” said Kubisek. “Our job is not to give advice or tell people what their recovery should look like. I can see the impact in the community because the guests at CCAR share very freely in the meetings, which shows that they feel they are supported and in a safe space to work toward or maintain their recovery.” 

Another CCE leader, Jayson Caballero ’26, said, “CCAR's goal is to put a ‘face on recovery,’ providing a space free of judgment to which those battling substance abuse and other addictions can take their steps toward recovery. Working here can be jarring at first, as we hear people's stories that can be quite sorrowful. However, being a part of the guest's recovery makes them grateful for the work we do.” 

There are also opportunities for members of the community to join in the fun. CCE leader Meghan Wrobel ’25 spoke of their experience at the Blue Iris Farm, where they “provide a safe and comfortable space for students to enjoy nature and animals, as well as work on a variety of work ranging from veterinary work, creative work, educational work and more so students can gain skills valuable to their future career goals.” 

Amilya Williams ’26 said her activities range from working at the St. Joseph Senior Living Center to helping the pep squad for the Special Olympics. 

“I absolutely love my time spent as a student leader,” Williams said. “It is the most fulfilling job I have ever had. Volunteering helps not only those we're directly working with within the community but ourselves as well. I have formed so many friendships in the year that I have been working here. I love connecting people to their passions and spending time with like-minded people.” 

As temperatures begin to cool and winter approaches, student leaders and volunteers look forward to participating in the Windham No Freeze program, where volunteers help those in need check into shelters. They also spend time in shelters. Whether it's with donations or games or conversation, the students bring a bit of Eastern warmth with them. 

“Many guests are just looking for that human connection, to be able to talk to someone and have someone listen to them,” Flynn said. “I have heard from many past student leaders and volunteers that this is their favorite program that they have ever done.” 

Seeing their impact on the community motivates students to continue returning to the CCE to help. 

“When I was looking for job, I expected to end up working at Walmart or something, but this is so different,” CCE leader Eduar Morales ’24 said. “I want to show up to work and meet the people I work with and interact with the community.” 

“It's a role that has taken me time to get used to,” said Caballero. “It forces me to break out of my shell. But the benefits of this job are like nothing else. The connections that can be built and the service we provide the community are both incredible feelings that you can't find in many other fields of work.” 

Written by Marcus Grant