Sixteen Sacred Heart University students volunteered throughout Bridgeport for the Office of Volunteer Programs & Service Learning (VPSL) and Office of Campus Ministry’s annual Community Understanding and Reflection Through Inner-City Service (CURTIS) Week.
CURTIS Week allows students of all grade levels, including graduate students, to immerse themselves in service throughout the local community and learn about urban issues of poverty, racism and immigration, according to a SHU press release. The program was held the week prior to the start of the spring semester.
“I think the beauty of it comes from the fact that, like a lot of our community engagement programs, it is reciprocal. Students not only are offering their time and attention on site, but it’s also an opportunity for them to learn from our community partners,” said Anne Wendel, director of VPSL.
Service sites included food pantries and soup kitchens like nOURish Bridgeport and Connecticut FoodShare, and also the Tina Klem Serenity House, which is a drug rehabilitation program for women in Bridgeport, according to Wendel.
Students participate in a morning and afternoon session of volunteering and end the night with an interfaith component, which is how some students, like junior Ellie Lifrieri, were introduced to the program.
“It was introduced to me once I joined Campus Ministry. I have an immense passion for community service; specifically in inner-city areas, so I was very eager for the week to start,” she said.
Others, like sophomore Lauren Pisano, who served as a student leader for this year’s CURTIS week, heard about the program as a result of pre-fall.
“I started off my freshman year as part of the Community Connections Pre-fall Program and continued participating in service during the semester,” she said. “Last year, CURTIS week was during spring break and I loved it, so I knew that I would want to do it again.
The program was created in honor of SHU’s founder, Bishop Walter W. Curtis, according to the university’s press release. Pisano also found that it helps to carry out SHU’s service mission.
“This university prides itself on service so it is great being able to be a part of that,” Pisano said. “It impacts the community because it shows them that people who live close to them do care about them and want to give back.”
Wendel agreed and recognized how important this service program is to everyone who is a part of it.
“I think it helps us live out the mission of the university and students not only have that experience, but they’re also being agents of change,” she said.
Wendel also said she hopes to break down some stereotypes about both the Bridgeport community and college students through this program.
“I think it’s important for the SHU campus community to understand the assets of Bridgeport and for Bridgeport to see SHU as a responsible and ethical neighbor,” she said.
Lifrieri discussed how important the connections she made with both her peers and the local Bridgeport community throughout the week were.
“I am not able to forget the experiences and interactions that I have been so fortunate enough to have had,” she said. “I truly believe that a seed has been planted in me since participating in CURTIS Week, and I cannot wait to watch it grow with hopes of encouraging others to serve the community as well.”
She also said that throughout the week, she realized the opportunities students have to make a difference in people’s lives.
“Personally, getting to witness both the struggles and admiration that the members of the community displayed has been extremely eye opening,” Lifrieri said. “This experience has left me tremendously grateful for the gifts I have, as well as empowered me to continue the service work I did throughout the week.”