VOLUME 44 NUMBER 2
Catherine A. Roberts, chair of the mathematics and computer science department and past director of the College’s Environmental Studies Program, “went green” before most of us knew a carbon footprint from a greenhouse gas. A passionate supporter of efforts to care for the Blackstone River, Roberts has been in the trenches, witnessing Holy Cross’ commitment to community partnership and helping our Earth. Here, she illuminates the multifaceted relationship between Holy Cross and the Regional Environmental Council in Worcester.
The Regional Environmental Council of Central Massachusetts (REC) is a “grassroots, nonprofit organization dedicated to building healthy, sustainable and equitable communities in Worcester for over 35 years.” When I joined the College in 2001, I sought to partner my new Environmental Mathematics course with local organizations, including the REC, the EcoTarium museum and the Mass Audubon Society. Student projects in this community-based learning course were mutually beneficial: The students experienced firsthand the impact of these groups on environmental issues in Worcester, and the project deliverables aided these organizations in their efforts. Acting as consultants-in-training, students engaged in quantitative analysis under the direction of agency staff with oversight from me as their instructor. One of the most fruitful partnerships has been, and continues to be, with the REC.
For a number of years, the REC has invited the Holy Cross community to participate on its board of directors. Katherine Robertson (Office of the President), Alice Laffey (religious studies) and I have each served on the REC board in recent years. The executive directors of the REC (formerly Peggy Middaugh and now Steve Fischer) have a remarkable ability to articulate suitable project ideas. In addition to contributing to the mission of the REC, these projects provide rich opportunities for our students to develop their interpersonal, quantitative and communication skills. It’s a win-win scenario! For instance, students in my class researched wind energy for the REC to help them advise the city on establishing policies for wind turbines. These students also made a presentation to Fr. McFarland that initiated the College’s exploration to possibly bring a wind turbine to campus. Another student project involved a quantitative analysis of urban asthma rates that resulted in informative news stories on local radio and TV stations. Students also surveyed College Hill residents to inventory mercury in the home, which allowed Holy Cross to contribute to the REC’s education efforts on mercury awareness.
The College has been a longtime major sponsor of Worcester’s annual Earth Day cleanup, which is managed by the REC. Oftentimes students and faculty adopt sites near campus to clean up. I’ll never forget the trash, including tires and shopping carts, that we pulled out of the Middle River, across McKeon Road. (The Middle River is the main headwater to the Blackstone River, which has been designated by the National Park Service as the “birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.” The College has been instrumental in keeping the headwaters clean and has involved students in the Blackstone River Coalition’s water-quality monitoring project.) For a number of years, Holy Cross students have served as volunteer or work-study interns at the REC to help organize and run the city-wide Earth Day cleanup program. Some of my recent students collected and classified litter in three city neighborhoods throughout the semester. Their report, which analyzed the type of trash collected, was used by the REC in its efforts with the Worcester City Council to design effective approaches to minimize litter in the city.
One of the most exciting developments in our relationship with the REC is the community garden program, including UGROW and YouthGROW. UGROW converts undeveloped lots into organic garden space for use by neighborhood residents. The YouthGROW summer program employs dozens of youth workers who maintain an inner-city farm and learn community-building skills. The YouthGROW farm raises over 2,000 pounds of organic fruits and vegetables each year, which are donated to food pantries and families in need. For years, the REC contracted with a local farmer to purchase the seedlings for these two initiatives, but 2010 will mark the fourth year that the seedlings are instead being grown right on the Holy Cross campus. The greenhouses in the department of biology have been made available to the REC each spring semester, along with two work-study students who assist the REC staff with growing thousands of seedlings for distribution throughout Worcester.
Each fall, the College hosts the REC’s annual fundraiser, known as the Slow Food Gala. This highly successful event benefits the garden programs. Marty Dudek, assistant director of dining services at Holy Cross, prepares the meal entirely from local, organic sources. In fact, all the ingredients for the meal come from within 100 miles of campus. Some of the vegetables on the menu are grown in Worcester at the YouthGROW farm. In 2009, Holy Cross started its own organic garden, and a number of people are working to help establish this garden for future seasons.
The wide array of projects supporting the work of the Regional Environmental Council reflects the College’s commitment to the city of Worcester. Each of these initiatives improves the environmental health of our community. I am blessed to be a part of such a meaningful articulation of the College’s mission.