My year in New York

In last week’s #WITWants2Know, we asked students if they have been involved in any service in the past year.  We were delighted to see that 61% of those who responded stated that they have.  Service is great opportunity to not only give back but to learn from others.  I wanted to take this opportunity to share with you my experience with community service as it was such a large part of my college experience.

I attended undergrad at Merrimack College which is a small, private, religiously affiliated institution.   And just like here, we were provided with the opportunity to participate in Alternative Spring Break.  This was an opportunity that I took advantage of for three of my four years.  Through that experience, I was able to work on a reservation in Asheville, North Carolina, assist with an after school program in the Bronx and helped to build an outhouse in Cuba, New Mexico.  Each of these experiences became so much more than giving back, it was what I received in return that creating meaning.  I was able to learn about other cultures and how life is experienced in so many ways.

When it was time to decide what was next my senior year, I made the choice to apply to a year long volunteer program that was run out of Villanova University.  The program was called the Augustinian Volunteers with locations in the Bronx, NY,  Peru, San Diego, CA and Lawrence, MA.  I was accepted into the program and placed in the Bronx.  As a part of the program, my housing, transportation, health insurance and food were covered and I received $25.00 a week in spending money.

In the Bronx, I served as the librarian at a Catholic elementary school and at the end of the school day I would assist with an after-school program.  I knew very little about library science but I could alphabetize and I could read stories to children all day.  I used my strengths, skills, and knowledge to develop theme months highlighting authors and books and reorganizing the space to be more inviting.  These students were experiencing elementary school in a far different way than I did.  The resources, both human and financial, were non-existent.  These students were receiving a great education due to teachers who were committed.

The after-school program consisted of about 40 kids from grades K-5 sitting in a cafeteria with three of us watching them.  We did not have any funds for activities for them so we would assist with homework and just talk.   Sometimes we would get to provide them with leftover milk from lunch that day and possibly a snack.  I remember my roommate and I developing activities and buying supplies for them to change up the routine.  These kids were great!  They had so much energy and talent.  It was a tough few hours, after a very long day but they made it worth it.  I did this work from September 2002 to June 2003.

I learned so much about myself and how I interact with the world around me.  I learned about a culture very different from my own.  I was able to engage with individuals who were not like me, whether those difference were due to race, socio-economic status, age, educational background, or family dynamic.  I learned that the world is a much great place than just me.  I discovered a new level of independence that I did not know I had.  I learned how to be creative and use resources to their greatest extent.  I would not change one moment from that experience.

I share this with you in the hope that you will consider incorporating service into your life.  It does not need to be a year long experience.  A day or an afternoon can make the difference for the population you are serving and for yourself.

If you are interested in learning more about service opportunities in the Boston area, I suggest you stop by the Center for Community and Learning Partnerships.  You can also visit their website at  They can connect you with so many amazing opportunities in Boston, some as close as the Mission Hill community only steps away from campus.  And when you are home for breaks, consider giving some of your time to a local organization.

The picture included with this post is myself and my fellow volunteers from 2002-2003.  We were scattered throughout the locations but shared an amazing experience.  If you can’t find me, I am in the second row up, farthest to the right.

In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. day which was celebrated earlier this week, I leave you with this…

“Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.”

– Martin Luther King, Jr.