features

Reimagining SPUD and Volunteering During A Pandemic

Grace Bromage ‘23

Chief Features Editor

Most students at the College of the Holy Cross can remember going to their first co-curriculars fair and noticing a distinct line form in front of one area in particular: the tables for SPUD. For many students, Student Programs for Urban Development serves as a way to get acquainted with Worcester, build deeper ties to the Holy Cross community, and provide service to those in need. While SPUD has seen changes since March, with the help of Civitas, it continues to operate and help in whatever ways possible.

Maggie Hannick ’24, the program director of the Worcester Refugees Assistance Program, was able to tell me about the changes she’s seen in her program. She said that “normally, we go to the site every Monday and Thursday night to read, do homework, and play with all the students … Because of COVID, the children’s group, tutoring, and mentoring transitioned to online. Volunteers have been paired with families to virtually check-in with and work on reading and learning with them.”

Another program to make the shift online was the Assumption Mentoring Program. Erin Flaherty ’21, the program director, notes that the move online has changed the way the mentors meet with mentees, but “what has not changed has been our volunteers’ dedication to the program and the children’s enthusiasm for mentoring each week. The mentors have been working together to develop new virtual activities that can be conducted on Zoom. The types of activities we have developed so far include arts and crafts or online trivia games.”

While many programs have had the ability to move online, many have not had that luxury. I was able to talk to Kerry Bresnahan ’22 about her experience as the program director of one of these programs. She said that “under normal circumstances, Abby’s House volunteers will spend the night at the shelter to make sure everything runs smoothly and provide the ministry of presence to all the guests… Since we don’t have any virtual contact with our sites, the Hunger and Homelessness SPUD cluster has decided to turn away from the much-needed charity work to the much-needed justice work for the semester… we are looking for ways that we can help identify and address the reasons that there is so much hunger and homelessness in Worcester. Our SPUD intern has reached out to United Way of Worcester to see if there is anything we can do to help.”

Graphic design by Kate Nedorostek ’23

Despite the changes, all three girls still feel like they are making a difference. Hannick feels that online has actually given her a chance to interact with people in a new way, saying that “it has been nice and wonderful to connect with a specific family and learn and grow with them each week.” She also noted that she has gotten closer with other volunteers through this. Flaherty says, “I believe we are still fulfilling our roles as mentors even under these unique circumstances . . . It may not be the same as it used to be, but the mentees are still excited to see us and they enjoy doing activities even in a virtual format.” Bresnahan, whose volunteer work has seen the most drastic change, says that “there is definitely less of a personal connection in the current way we are running, which makes it hard to tell if our efforts are making a difference in the life of even one person. However, the idea that the long term goal of what we are doing is to ultimately prevent someone from going hungry or becoming homeless is keeping me motivated, even if I don’t know them personally.”

Despite the changes to SPUD and other volunteer services, students continue to engage and live out the mission of “men and women for and with others.”

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