The Center for Community Engagement and Service: Another year for the books
The Center for Community Engagement and Service said goodbye to the 2019-2020 academic year as it heads home for the month of July. This was a year of many unexpected twists and turns that provided an opportunity for the Center to do what it does best: meet the needs of our community.
This year began like any other, with Kelly Powers, director of community service, and Kathleen Rendos, assistant director of community service, in the quiet of Gerety Hall preparing for the students to return to campus. In August, the office welcomed two new graduate interns, Olivia Collins from Providence College and Nicole Rigby from University of Rhode Island. By late August, students were on campus and the office started to fill with returning students and new faces. As the summer faded quickly and classes began, programs in the Center were up and running.
For the first time ever, the Center for Community Engagement and Service piloted the Senior Service Advocates Program. This program consisted of five seniors, former Service Advocates, that applied for a leadership role that would allow them to stay connected to service during their busy year of academics, internships, and part-time jobs.
The center also ran the Service Advocate Program. The 26 Service Advocates committed to completing 100 hours of service throughout the year at one of our partner sites: Child & Family, Edward King House, Potter League, Salvation Army, Donovan Manor, God’s Community Garden and Learning Unlimited. Collectively, the Service Advocates served a combined total of 2,181 hours in the community.
2019-20 was the third year the Center hosted the Thompson Program — an after school program for fifth and sixth graders at Thompson Middle School. For the first time, lessons were planned and taught by work study students that were hired as After-School Program Leaders. In addition to the two leaders, the program had four volunteers that attended weekly to participate in activities. The Art Club also volunteered to create holiday crafts with the students. Enrolling over 25 students, the program was fun and successful. The Center is currently planning the fourth year of the program.
During the fall/winter seasons, the Center ran annual holiday donation drives. For Thanksgiving, it ran the “Feed-A-Family” drive, collecting non-perishable donations for Child & Family, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, the Refugee Dream Center, Saint Vincent’s and the Salvation Army. Immediately after, we began setting up the Angel Trees around campus and making tags. The Angel Tree program benefits children in need through Child & Family, Community Baptist Church, the Confetti Foundation, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, the Salvation Army, the Women’s Resource Center and the Tashirat Orphanage in Mexico. Students and staff flooded the Center with gift donations that Center staff and student-volunteers sorted and wrapped.
After the Holiday Break, students returned to campus eager to continue fundraising and preparing for the many spring Service Immersions. In spring 2020, the Service Plunge 2.0 was scheduled to take place, along with the annual immersion to Orlando, Florida, for Give Kids the World was planned. In August 2020, the first ever immersion to a Native American Reservation in North Dakota was scheduled to take place.
All these plans changed in March, however, due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the Center for Community Engagement and Service was quick to improvise. Preparing for what was next was uncharted territory that the Center navigated with teamwork and open minds. While students went home for Spring Break with uncertainty, the Center prepared for the worst.
After Spring Break, students remained home, staff remained home and the world remained at home. Everything changed. The Center for Community and Service remained working remotely brainstorming ways to support the Salve Community and Aquidneck Island. Service Advocates were “right there” beside the Center in Zoom meetings, emails and Facetime calls to support our initiatives and Community Partners.
In the earliest stages of the pandemic, the Center responded to the immediate needs including shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and necessities including food and toiletries. It also collected and donated gloves and masks for medical professionals, food for Salvation Army and St. Joes and toiletries for the Newport Health Equity Zone and MLK Center. In addition, it ran drives for Housing Hotline and Changing Table to collect clothing, diapers and baby wipes.
Since working remotely, the Center has continued planning for next year’s events, including planning Service Plunge and recruiting Service Advocates. While serving remotely and participating in Zoom trainings, students attending the Service Immersions continued fundraising. Service Plunge 2.0 students raised money to purchase school supplies for Pell Elementary students, and students going to Orlando, Florida, funded a wish for a young boy, Ronan, who dreamed of going to the Florida Theme Parks.
The spring was also supposed to be the launch of the new, grant-funded initiative at Rogers High School. The “Supply Closet” at Rogers High School was going to supply students in need with hygiene products, healthy foods and clothing. In addition, the closet will have school supplies such as pens, pencils, highlighters and notebooks.
When schools closed, however, the Center knew students needed access to these items now more than ever. Thinking quickly, the Center decided to move forward with the initiative. It used the grant money to purchased food and school supplies to create care packages with a letter to students included. The students could pick up their packages at the Boys and Girls Club wearing protective masks or have the package delivered. Five requests for packages were made in the first 24 hours.
Most recently, the Center is wrapping up its annual report, evaluations and Service Advocate trainings. Although in August, it will return to campus with a new perspective, and everyone knows our community partners and our students are as excited as we are to reconnect in person.