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Freshmen start college career with service 

This year, a group of incoming freshmen will clear invasive plants from a city park and clean up neighborhoods around Providence College through Urban Action, while some of their classmates will learn about the Diocese of Providence and its social justice ministries as part of FaithWorks — all while making friends and getting to know their new campus and community.

One out of every five Providence College students starts his or her college experience with community service through two popular programs.

This year, 150 students in the incoming Class of 2018 will participate in Urban Action, a five-day program of neighborhood and park cleanups, sponsored by the Office of Student Activities-Involvement-Leadership (S.A.I.L.).

In addition, 40 freshmen will get an introduction to the Diocese of Providence and its ministries through FaithWorks, a Campus Ministry program that combines service with social justice and spiritual reflection over five days.

The two programs allow students to move in early and get acquainted with some of their new classmates as well as the PC campus and city of Providence.

“College can be such a bubble, with students having both their social life and their academic life where they live,” said Sarah Attwood, campus minister. “FaithWorks provides a great opportunity, even before their time in college begins, to step outside of the bubble and gain awareness of the city they are living in, and the social issues affecting its residents.”

“These students are at the beginning of such a huge transition, coming to college,” Attwood said. “This allows them to get settled and find friendships that are grounded in faith and service and social justice. They’re building friendships that are based on values that really matter.”

Students also get to meet upperclassmen who can act as informal mentors, said Patrick Walker ’15 (Smithfield, R.I.), who serves as an Urban Action coordinator along with Michael Carolan ’15 (Hauppauge, N.Y.) and Emily McClellan ’15 (Milton, Mass.).

“It’s a chance to gain confidence, make friends, and make an impact on your community,” he said. “We’re really trying to make this transition from high school to college easier for others.” 

Urban Action participants and 22 leaders will:

  1. pull invasive plants and clear trails at Neutaconkanut Hill Park, one of the last remaining forested areas within the city of Providence.
  2. clear brush and till ground in Candace Street Park to prepare it for a community garden for the Smith Hill Community Development Corporation (CDC).
  3. lead a community clean up of the Smith Hill neighborhood with the CDC.
  4. host an afterschool program and field day for children in Smith Hill with the CDC.

“We really want our kids and (Urban Action) members to bring their friends into Smith Hill and outside the bubble of PC,” Walker said. “It’s really important for us to take kids to a site they probably wouldn’t make it to, and add some value to it, giving back some important service.”

Students in FaithWorks, along with 10 coordinators, will visit Catholic Charities programs such as:

  1. Emmanuel House, a homeless shelter, where students will help with the community garden on site and clean up the surrounding neighborhood.
  2. St. Martin de Porres Center, a senior center, where participants will work with staff on activities such as computer classes and bingo. 
  3. Diocesan Office of Life and Family, where students will work with staff on programs such as post-abortion outreach and crisis pregnancy services.
  4. Immigration & Refugee Services, where they will meet with immigrant families and help them review citizenship information.
  5. Cooking Matters at the Store, a program funded by a grant from Catholic Charities USA and Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, where students will learn how to teach others how to budget for healthy meals and give tours at a local grocery store.
  6. St. Mathias programs for individuals struggling with addiction and their families, where participants will learn about addiction services and prepare for the Rally for Recovery, which celebrates those who have overcome problems.
  7. Chaplaincy office at the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, where they will tour the facility and learn about the services offered by religious and lay volunteers.

FaithWorks begins with Mass celebrated by the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, D.D., bishop of Providence. The program also invites speakers to educate students both on the needs of the community and ways they can incorporate faith and service in their future careers. Dr. Eric Hirsch, professor of sociology, will address the participants along with members of the Homeless Speakers Bureau, as well as recent graduates who chose career paths to address social justice causes. 

In addition, students in both programs will meet throughout the school year. Urban Action will meet several times in the fall and spring semesters for additional projects at Neutaconkanut Hill and in the Smith Hill neighborhood. FaithWorks, which incorporates small- and large-group reflection time every evening during the program, will add weekly faith-sharing sessions this year “to keep the intentionality part of it,” Attwood said.

—   Liz F. Kay

Read more about what's happening at the College at PC Today.
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