A week before students were expected back on campus in January to start the spring semester, many spent the last days of their winter break participating in service activities. Two groups of students provided community development in Central America and Mexico, another visited Mississippi to rebuild homes, and a third participated in eye-opening experiences locally during SHU’s annual CURTIS Week.
About 23 students volunteered for CURTIS Week (Community Understanding and Reflection Through Inner-City Service). The annual week of reflection, service and immersion in Bridgeport is named after SHU’s founder, Bishop Walter W. Curtis.
Those who volunteered in the Bridgeport area were housed in St. Charles Borromeo Parish on the city’s East Side. During the day, the students worked at several nonprofit service sites throughout the city, including Alpha Community Services, Merton House and a food pantry. Each evening, they attended different religious services.
This year’s initiative focused on diversity, according to Andrea Canuel, assistant director of Volunteer Programs and Service Learning. Students went to a Buddhist service, a synagogue, a mosque and a Catholic Mass at a predominately African-American church, The Church of the Blessed Sacrament in Bridgeport.
“We wanted to expose students to various religious traditions and different cultural aspects,” Canuel said.
On Jan. 14, students arrived at the Kennedy Center’s Maggie Daly Arts Cooperative (MDAC) to work with people who struggle with cognitive disabilities. The MDAC aims to provide an innovative environment where people ages 22 to 76 can learn and create in a multi-faceted arts program.
Jazz music played in the large room filled with a variety of arts projects — including a large, colorful Christmas tree made from painted aluminum cooking tins — while the group sat in a circle and got acquainted. Students talked about themselves and learned about the MDAC participants before everyone moved on to ballet activities.
Sophomore Jacqui Krebs, who was a group leader during CURTIS Week, said MDAC is an “amazing place. People are able to come here and thrive. They get to do what they love.”
Krebs participated in 2015’s CURTIS Week as well, and she said she enjoys this service time. Students go into it not knowing anyone else, she said, and by the end of it, everyone feels like family. In addition, they get to help out the community, she said.
While 13 students worked at MDAC, another group volunteered at Alpha Community Services in Bridgeport.
Service initiatives didn’t stop in Bridgeport — a group of students helped rebuild homes with a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Lucedale, Miss. Another seven students worked for two weeks with families and children in Guatemala, concentrating on community development. Meanwhile, four students worked in Oaxaca, Mexico, with the Norwalk-based Simply Smiles nonprofit agency, putting a new roof on a home in the poverty-stricken region.