Volunteering at the Center for Community Engagement Changed My College Experience

Jennifer Zuniga Opinion Editor

In high school, you are expected to complete numerous community service hours, which helps when you are applying to colleges, so the admissions office can see if you are a well-rounded student. At first, I must admit, I only did community service for college applications, but over time I grew to have a passion for it. Ever since I came to Eastern one of the things I was excited to do was get involved with community service volunteering. When I found out about the Community for Center Engagement (CCE), I was thrilled. Although I only did special events in my freshman year, this helped me get a better understanding of the Willimantic area. My first semester during my sophomore year, however, I pushed myself to do more with the CCE.

I decided to do three community programs: The Covenant Soup Kitchen, Girls Club, and Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS). The following semester: Barrows Elementary, Sweeney Elementary (Girls Club), No Freeze, and Windham Middle School. Presently I am doing: Soup Kitchen, Sweeney Elementary (Girls Club), and No Freeze. Volunteering with the CCE has changed my life because it has helped me understand Willimantic better, debunk stereotypes placed on people who live in the community, and an opportunity to connect with people by listening to their stories. 

If it weren’t for the volunteering opportunities that I did, I wouldn’t have had the chance to see the beauty that Willimantic could hold. Being an out of state student made me realize that it was time to get to know the community. There are a lot of things that students don’t understand about the area. Although it may seem small, it has allowed me to notice that there are many people who are willing to help the residents here. For example, we have the Covenant Soup Kitchen, they are open every day and are willing to feed the people who can’t afford a fresh hot meal. If it weren’t for the people who work and volunteer there, the service wouldn’t be provided to help many of the residents. Through experiencing this, my mind has opened up to acknowledge that even the slightest thing you do, can make a greater impact. It starts with helping out with giving some of your time to help out. If it weren’t for the CCE, I wouldn’t have been able to take part in the different services offered around here. 

When I got to Eastern, there were rumors being spread around about how the area was dangerous due to the high levels of crime, homelessness, addiction, etc. However, I wouldn’t listen to them. I was determined to see it from my own eyes. Nonetheless, my mom raised me to know that I can’t judge people without getting the chance to talk to them first. Through the community programs, I was about to understand that you can’t judge people based on what others say about them. Everyone goes through problems, and it’s the job for us not to judge them based on what society has labeled them to be; we are human after all. When I volunteered at the soup kitchen, I viewed everyone who goes there as regular people. In fact, I can even go to say that they are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met: they greeted me for kindness and have always thanked me for investing my time to help out. 

While volunteering I’ve connected with people by listening to their stories, especially doing No Freeze. As I volunteered late on Friday night, I was able to talk to the people there. I would and could spend many hours talking to them. They had stories, and I had time. Through the many talks I had with people, I was able to understand why they were there seeking help and hear their experiences throughout their lives. Additionally, the student leaders that I’ve had have made me feel more than welcome. I’ve had the privilege to meet many great ones who care so much about helping out the community, which has always been beautiful to see.  

Volunteering with the CCE has changed my life for the following reasons: it has helped me understand Willimantic better, debunk stereotypes placed on people who live in the community, and an opportunity to connect with people by listening to their stories. I never pictured myself being passionate about helping out the community. I continue to love my college experience because of the various opportunities the CCE has allowed me to do. I continue to learn about the different labels society has placed on every type of group. I highly recommend that you volunteer with them, and hopefully, you will learn a lot by part-taking in either their special events and community programs.

Campus Lantern
The Campus Lantern is the school newspaper at Eastern Connecticut State University. The Lantern is run by students, for students and reports on everything hppening around campus. We publish every other week. The Lantern has been in publication since 1945.

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