SPUD Celebrates 50 Years of Students Serving Worcester

College now sends 530 student volunteers to more than 40 sites across Worcester

Dissatisfied with the status quo and seeking more agency in uncertain times, Holy Cross students decided to put their Jesuit education to use in 1968 by establishing a student-run service organization, one that has since exploded in scope throughout the city of Worcester and is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Student Programs for Urban Development, better known as SPUD, was founded out of a desire to connect with Worcester residents in light of the major events disrupting the American landscape in 1968: mounting resistance against the Vietnam War, increased participation among youth during the Civil Rights Movement and the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.

SPUD founder Patrick E. Clancy '68 and other Holy Cross students recognized the need to serve their neighbors and set out to establish a student-led volunteer organization. To attract participants, Clancy created a brochure that listed six volunteer sites throughout the city and a quote by French poet Paul Claudel: "Youth was not made for pleasure, but for heroism."

"I probably read that quote in a theology or philosophy class," recalls Clancy, who used it as a call to action for students. "We were aspiring to heroic acts; that was sort of the spirit of the times."

The SPUD spirit of dedication to others is reflected in the oft-repeated Jesuit ideal, "Men and women for and with others." And, surprisingly, SPUD predates the adoption of this motto on campus.

"It's noteworthy that students at Holy Cross were already living this out concretely before the Jesuits had fully articulated education for justice as the primary aim of Jesuit higher education," says Martin Kelly, associate chaplain and current SPUD faculty adviser. "Students paved the way for building the volunteer capacity to significantly impact local neighborhoods and address the immediate needs of the underprivileged in Worcester."

The first year SPUD was launched, there were six service locations staffed by 40 Holy Cross students and 60 students from other Worcester colleges and universities. Today, SPUD sends 530 student volunteers to more than 40 sites across Worcester and is run exclusively through Holy Cross.

Students have been visiting some of the sites — which have become program staples — for decades, such as the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, the Mustard Seed Catholic Worker and Abby's House.

While the Chaplains' Office became affiliated with SPUD around the year 2000, the organization's success over five decades is a testament to the continued leadership and initiative shown by students.

Students volunteering through SPUD. Photo by Tom Rettig

The SPUD Recruitment Fair, an event during which students can sign up to volunteer, draws hundreds of students each September, many of whom feel called to action by the current state of affairs in the city and nation. It is divided into clusters that offer a variety of service opportunities: youth mentoring, afterschool and educational opportunities, poverty and hunger, and health care and the elderly. The fair attracts so many participants that students must sign up for a 15-minute time slot to attend, and many arrive early to get a good spot in line.

"SPUD is the part of my week that gives me that opportunity to focus my attention, energy and thoughts on Worcester, on the place I call home. Holy Cross is extremely social justice oriented in its teachings and coursework, and SPUD has allowed me to take those lessons and put them to action," says SPUD intern Daniela Fazio '18.

Remaining up to date with the needs of those in Worcester, SPUD has expanded to engage those within the growing immigrant and refugee communities, including a partnership with the African Community Education Program (ACE) and the Worcester Refugee Assistance Program (WRAP). ACE serves middle and high school-aged African refugees, whereas WRAP serves Burmese refugees. Both SPUD sites encourage volunteers to aid refugees in gaining access to available resources, assimilating to American culture and completing their education.

"The SPUD program and Holy Cross have been an integral part of Worcester Refugee Assistance Project's success in several ways," says WRAP Executive Director Lesa McWalters. "SPUD volunteers have worked closely with the Burmese refugee children and youth by helping with homework, reading to children and relating to children and youth of all ages through fun and educational programs. Their donations, both monetary and in-kind, have helped WRAP maintain educational support and mentorship for children and youth, and have inspired youth who are considering higher education in the future.

"Volunteers in the SPUD program have initiated several discussions and panels on campus that have included speakers from the WRAP board and community, which help promote the awareness of refugees living in the Worcester community. We at WRAP are eternally grateful for the dedication and support of the SPUD program."

Not only does SPUD's work significantly impact the local community, but it also has a reciprocal impact on Holy Cross students. At Abby's House, an organization that serves the needs of low-income and battered women and their children, these mutually influential relationships have been fostered for more than 40 years.

"The most profound moment I've had at a SPUD site occurred in the middle of the night during my freshman year, sitting at the Abby's House kitchen table with another woman and her newborn, a premature baby who was struggling with respiratory issues," says SPUD intern Carly Priest '18. "We were both 19, both bright young women, but at very different stages in our lives. In moments like these, SPUD becomes more than a weekly program commitment — it becomes Abby's House, and moments of profound connection fostered through mutual respect and quiet conversations."

"The lasting effect of our work is on a more personal level — transforming Holy Cross students' perspectives on the city that they live in and its people — and vice versa — is a powerful part of SPUD's impact," Kelly explains.

At SPUD's core lies the potential for teachable moments about life, service and compassion for others. Clancy understood in 1968, and he understands now that students are grappling with the meaning of their SPUD experience — and thinking about where their values should take them beyond their Holy Cross education.

"That's what happened to me 50 years ago," he says. "That's the enormously important impact."

Written by Maeve Sweeney '18 for the Spring 2018 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

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