When the Classroom and Community Service Collide

Written By: Shannon Bianchi

Community-Based Learning (CBL) classes at Stonehill give the student a whole different type of learning experience. Offering a new take on education, CBL courses combine a regular classroom course with additional hours dedicated to implementing projects or conducting research in partnership with a local community organization– many of which work with the Center for Nonprofit Management.  First, through readings and lectures students learn and discuss the root causes of community problems. This coursework then allows for students to reflect on such problems through action in the community. By applying the knowledge learned in the classroom and through directly experiencing a community problem, students can then analyze and strategize for change. Mirroring Stonehill students’ active enthusiasm and participation in community service projects, CBL courses are highly regarded among students.

I was fortunate enough to have a CBL experience my sophomore year. Many Learning Community (LC) courses–which consist of two separate courses in different disciplines, linked together in a third seminar-style class–encompass some sort of CBL component. My LC was entitled, “Through the Looking Glass.” One element of this LC was a sociology course called, “A Great Society?” and covered topics including inequalities in American society, social policy matters, and other issues that detract from making this country “a great society.” In order to apply the knowledge we learned in class and experience inequalities first hand, we had to complete community service hours each week.

For my community service, I choose to spend time working at a local nonprofit, My Brother’s Keeper, each week. Founded in 1988 and located just around the corner from Stonehill’s campus, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) is a wonderful organization that delivers furniture and food to those in need. Their mission is “‘To bring the love and hope of Jesus Christ to those we serve.’ Anyone living in our service area is eligible to receive help, regardless of religion. All services are provided free of charge and without judgment.” With the help of 3,000 volunteers and 9 full-time employees, MBK makes around 8,000 deliveries each year. MBK is just one of the many organizations The Center for Nonprofit Management works with and supports.

Each week during the Fall 2012 semester, I would spend my Thursday mornings volunteering with some of my classmates at MBK. Each time we went to MBK, we would first help load up the trucks with furniture for the morning deliveries. We were then assigned to a delivery truck and a long-standing MBK volunteer who would make the delivery with us. On some trips we would make up to three separate deliveries, while on others we could only make one delivery, depending on how far our destination was. Some deliveries were easier than others; carrying in a coffee table was relatively simple while trying to navigate three mattresses up or down stairs, or through narrow hallways was no easy task. However, despite the challenges, the experience was always meaningful. Almost all of the furniture recipients expressed how grateful they were for our help. It was such a rewarding feeling to know we were helping these people make their houses or apartments feel more like homes. Additionally, working with the MBK organization was gratifying in itself. The MBK building radiates with a sense of community and hope. The volunteers and employees at MBK are some of the nicest and friendliest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting. While they spend time enjoying each other’s company and catching up with one another, they are all focused on job they have to do: bettering the lives of those who are not as fortunate as them. Their dedication to MBK’s mission is remarkable and their sense of humility inspiring. One of my favorite parts of going on deliveries was at the end when all the furniture was moved in. Upon saying goodbye to the recipient, someone on the delivery team would say, “We are just the delivery people, this is the man who sent the furniture,” and hand them a crucifix. I loved this because although not the all recipients are Christian, they all really appreciated this gesture and it made the delivery dignified.

I thought that working with MBK was the perfect complement to my CBL Learning Community. Throughout the semester, I truly learned the value of community service. Through serving others, you also help yourself. You become more aware of the world around you and become more passionate about fighting injustices that plague people just like you. While learning about social policy and injustice issues in class, I was able to see how these issues affected community members firsthand. Many of the recipients could have likely been on one of the government programs we learned about in class such as TANF or SNAP. Seeing so many people with poor living conditions, I could not help but think of it as a reflection of how such programs are not doing enough to help. While working with MBK, I also learned that every little bit of service helps. While we may not be able to change social policy or pull people out of poverty, we can dedicate our time and our resources to bettering the lives of our community members. If donating three hours of my time a week to delivering a mattress to a child in need is enough to restore someone’s sense of dignity, then that’s enough for me.