Springfield College holds more than the key to 235 Eastern Ave. They have a key to connection and fulfillment. It is a key to a barrier that has been ready to break for some time now.
In May 2015, Springfield College saw a vision in the retired Holy Family Rectory at the cross section of Eastern Avenue and Granville Street. By the fall of 2015, Dr. Mary Beth Cooper had purchased the property to serve as a vehicle to campus and community engagement.
The school’s vision had been conceived several months prior to the purchase of the rectory, when AmeriCorps member, Jon Feinman, gave the closing speech at an AmeriCorps banquet. He spoke about his alternative workout facility in Dorchester called InnerCity Weightlifting. Dr. Charlene Elvers, Director of Student Volunteer Programs, had attended the event with Dr. Cooper and commented on his work.
“He ended up opening a gym and taking former gang members and adolescents, who wanted to get out of gangs, and trained them to become personal trainers,” said Elvers. “Then, he got them jobs working with high paying customers.”
Both Dr. Elvers and Dr. Cooper were “very taken by him” said Elvers. During the presentation, Elvers asked herself, “We have students that can do things like that, how can I facilitate students really getting to know people in our neighborhood like that?” That was when the vision was born.
From that moment in March, Elvers collaborated the idea with President Cooper. Elvers explained, “I think we could do things like this, but we need a way to do it. The way to do that is to have a space in the neighborhood where college students and faculty can come together and really develop authentic relationships and start to work together to make this neighborhood a better place.” Cooper was very open to Elvers idea.
With the rectory being within walking distance from Springfield College, it was the perfect place for those authentic relationships to sprout. After the purchase had been made, Cooper had turned the keys over to Elvers to begin the planning of the center. Since, Elvers has been on her “listening tour” of the surrounding neighborhood to collect ideas for the center and to let the community know that we are here for them. The main vision for the center is to match the needs of our college and surrounding community for mutual benefit, but the benefits are predicted to be much greater.
While attending Springfield College, students live off of the Humanics mantra, “spirit, mind, and body, with service to humanity.” As a college, Humanics In Action Day is where students and faculty commit to community service for one full day. Elvers, Cooper, and their team of colleagues want it to continue beyond that one day.
“The reality for us is that it needs to go further than that. For students to have a space to commit themselves to service is absolutely critical,” said Dr. Calvin Hill, Vice President for Inclusion and Community Engagement and one of the colleagues working on the rectory project. The rectory will be a place where students can do an assortment of things for and with the community. There will be anything from literacy courses to fitness classes happening on a given day at the center. Elvers said that these programs would have no age limit. “There will be activities for young kids up to older adults,” Elvers reassured. Having all ages from the community apart of this project will make it even more beneficial.
The biggest benefit that this center will produce is the complete termination of the “us and them” stigma. “I want this center to be where everyone comes together. This campus and the Springfield community want to work together,” said Elvers.
Hill echoed that.
“We are committing ourselves to leadership. This is a start to a more community presence. We are more than just a neighbor—we are an engaged neighbor,” said Hill.
This rectory project is another part of the college’s future, and Elvers hopes that it will attract many more students that have a mentality towards service. “It’s a learning opportunity in this urban setting, and that is hard to find anywhere else,” Elvers reiterated. “It can take students learning to a different level and help interact with people a different way.”
Opening Day for this center is set for the fall of 2017, and Elvers and Hill are vigilantly working on the space to make it as influential as possible for both the immediate community and the student body. While it currently needs some cosmetic care, there will be a Meet & Greet, Sunday, May 1 from 1:00pm-3:00pm. All are welcome to contribute ideas to this project!