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Cathy Crimmins-Lechowicz, director of Community Service and Volunteerism, stands outside a Northern Middlesex Habitat for Humanity house, where she places volunteer workers.
 
Posted 03.31.05

Director of Community Service and Volunteerism Connects People with Projects

Q: The Office of Community Service and Volunteerism (OCS) fosters community building within Wesleyan and with the communities of Middletown and Middlesex County. How are some ways the department goes about this?

A: We, meaning my colleagues and I here at the Center for Community Partnerships, meet with community organizations and students regularly to hear about the needs, interests and possible connections that we can facilitate. We support current programs and encourage students and community members to think creatively about new initiatives and collaborations. We try to meet students needs by providing a variety of ways to connect with the community: they can volunteer through one of our programs, obtain a work study position in the community, take a service-learning course which will provide a connection to the community or we'll work with students to find a good fit if one doesn't already exist.

Q: When did you come to Wesleyan?

A: I started here in August 2003. I had just finished grad school at NYU and one of my professors there is a Wesleyan alum. I told her about this job I was applying for and she raved about Wesleyan.

Q: How do you spend a typical day?

A: It totally depends. Some days I spend a lot of time at my desk, other days I'm not even in the office. Typically, I come in and check e-mail, may have a meeting with a community organization or group, meet with some students, meet with my student staff, maybe drive students to a volunteer opportunity and try and get stuff done in between.

Q: Can anyone in the campus community volunteer? Who generally volunteers for these projects? Students, staff, faculty?

A: This office primarily works with students, although I am more then happy to talk with faculty, staff and community members about volunteer opportunities they may be interested in. Students do not have to apply for the opportunities unless itís a work study position - then they do need to fill out paperwork. At the beginning of the year, we do our biggest recruitment with the student activities fair and the community service fair. And then throughout the year, the OCS student staff will hold information sessions and answer questions of interested students.

Q: Is working with student volunteers rewarding?

A: My position is incredibly rewarding. Itís wonderful that students are willing to give of their time and energy and wonderful that the community welcomes them into their organizations and so appreciates their work. I love talking with students after they volunteer and hearing how their experience is meaningful to them and how it affects their time here at Wesleyan. I am constantly amazed at how invested our students become in their community work and how much they come to care about the individuals and organizations with whom they work. It is incredible to witness and support. Each positive experience students have in the community is a small step forward in breaking down the barriers between town and gown.

Q: What are some of the programs your office places volunteers with?

A: I have a student staff of 12 who run programs in the following areas: AIDS/HIV, Women and Children, North End Mentors, Senior Services, Tutoring, Hunger and Homelessness and Special Events. Through those programs, students work with a wide range of local organizations such as Oasis Center, Women and Children Center, North End Action Team, Habitat for Humanity and many local schools. In addition to the programs listed here, students work with other organizations either independently, for work study or through other student groups on campus that may not run through our office.

Q: Why is it important to volunteer in the community?

A: This is a difficult question to answer because everyone is different and may have a different reason. For me, I think itís a critical part of society and that there should be this constant flow of give and take, and an active participation of its members. Far too often there is a lack of a sense of community and I think by volunteering and getting out of our chosen environment, there is opportunity for personal growth and better understanding of those with whom we share a community but may never ordinarily interact.

Q: Do you volunteer with any of these programs yourself?

A: I volunteer with a variety of organizations in Middletown and outside.  I am on the Core Services Team at the United Way and work with six local organizations who are applying for United Way funds. I also sit on the Board of Directors for the Coalition for Children, a local advocacy group which fights for the rights of children in Middlesex County. I'm also on the advisory board for Idealist on Campus which is a national organization working with students interested in non-profit careers. A few weeks ago, my husband and I worked with the OCS student staff and the students I advise in the Community Service House on the Habitat House on Fairview Avenue and I would love to do more of that!

Q: What is your educational background?

A: I received a bachelorís degree in education from the University of Virginia in 1999; I then took two years off and participated in AmeriCorps and then returned to UVA for a fellowship. After that, I went to NYU for my masterís in public administration. 

Q: What led you to work in this type of career?

A: Service has always been an important part of my life and it helped me discover more about myself and my career aspirations. I think service can help students unwind, have more self discovery, explore career interests and build a sense of community - all while contributing to the greater good of our community - whether here in Middletown, in their home town or abroad. I think itís important to plant the seed of service early so that our students will continue to actively participate in their communities where ever they live after Wesleyan.

Q: What do you do for entertainment when youíre not working or volunteering?

A: I got married last summer to my husband Joe. I love to spend time with family and friends - I'm one of four children and Joe is one of three so we do a lot of visiting and hosting.  We have three nieces who we adore and love to spend time with.  We enjoy spending time outdoors - whether hiking, running, exploring new areas or taking pictures.  We love live music and traveling to new places.

By Olivia Bartlett, The Wesleyan Connection editor