Carolina Garcia understands the transformative power of service—for both volunteers and the community—in her role as director of Suffolk’s Center for Community Engagement. And yet she was struck by the change that came over many of the students enrolled in Community Engagement: A Personal and Professional Journey, a class taught in partnership with the Sawyer Business School honors program.
“The students took this required class because they had to, but by the end they were transformed,” said Garcia.
Business undergraduates must fulfill a Local Engagement requirement exposing them to broad perspectives and diverse cultures. The community engagement course, designed so that students examine the role of civic and community engagement in enhancing personal and professional development, fulfilled the requirement. Students looked at ways of contributing to social justice and the responsibility to do so by focusing on the roles of community organizations, foundations, corporations and other entities.
Class requirements include community service activity and written reflections.
“There is really no way to understand the feeling of giving back to those in need unless you actually participate in some type of service,” wrote one student. “Service should not just be seen as a requirement, but as a very important part of life and communities everywhere.”
From uncertain to committed
While Salvatore Tinnerello was “in-between” on fulfilling the requirement when he enrolled in the class last year as a freshman, he has continued to engage in service even after the class ended.
Meanwhile, Allison Durett was eager to get involved. She had volunteered at her town library for three years while in high school and wanted to see how she could contribute in the urban environment.
Tinnerello, a finance major said he hadn’t done much volunteering in high school beyond, “a bit of time in a soup kitchen." He signed on to serve meals to needy people at the Paulist Center’s Wednesday Night Supper Club across from the Boston Common. “In two months of serving meals, I definitely learned to appreciate what I have.”
He welcomed the connections he made with the Supper Club guests, many of whom he perceived as homeless.
“You’d see some people every week, and they would be friendly and say hello,” said Tinnerello, who comes from a small Connecticut town where he didn’t see much hardship. “Now I recognize more and more social injustice and poverty. It affects more people than I thought.”
As business student, the class made Tinnerello “want to be part of a company that gives back to the community. As an individual it helped me because I care more.” This caring has brought him back to serve at the Wednesday Night Supper Club since his return to campus this fall.
And in addition to connecting with the guests, he has met volunteers from Suffolk and other schools as well as a Suffolk alumnus who joined the effort after he graduated.
“I learn more and more about people who care and want to help,” said Tinnerello.
A new level of comfort
Durett, who grew up near New York City, saw vast differences in the lives of the homeless and her own life as she prepared and served food at St. Francis House, a day shelter in downtown Boston.
“It’s great to see how many people are helped at St. Francis House, with warm clothing, classes, a women’s center, a drug rehab center, and clinic,” she said.
“It was nice going through the dining room, where a lot of people would say thank you and smile at me, and we would talk. Before I started volunteering at St. Francis House, homeless people on the street made me uncomfortable. By the end of the class my eyes were opened. I saw homeless people less as homeless and more as people.”
Durett, a sophomore, majoring in information systems and marketing, is following a path similar to Tinnerello’s: She plans to continue her volunteer efforts one Saturday a month with a roommate who also volunteered at St. Francis House.
“People think it takes a lot of time, but it really doesn’t,” she said. “You should do it to help people, but it also makes you feel good yourself.”
Durett said that businesses should be more conscious of the society around them. She was impressed with a class visitor from Fidelity who described the company’s program encouraging employees to volunteer once a month.
“They make it easy through partnerships in the community, and it benefits society and their customers,” she said. “I think everyone should volunteer at least one time in their life. It’s such a fulfilling experience, you’re helping society, and you can make people feel happy around you.”