By Mike Lauterborn
(for Sacred Heart University)
Bridgeport, CT – Over four dozen Sacred Heart University students set pencils and textbooks aside Saturday morning November 5 in favor of shovels, rakes, spades and work gloves to pitch in on a Bridgeport beautification effort.
Spurred by Groundwork Bridgeport, an environmental organization in the Park City that focuses on enhancement and clean-up, and coordinated by Maura Cook, Assistant Director of Volunteer Programs at SHU, the effort focused on removing tree and leaf debris, waterfront clearance, trash pick-up and the planting of flower bulbs and trees. SHU student activities were concentrated on two sites: William Barnum Park at the corner of Barnum Avenue and William Street and James Brown Park on Waterview Avenue. About 35 members of SHU’s Kappa Sigma fraternity handled James Brown Park while 16 other students managed William Barnum. All equipment and plantings were supplied by Groundwork.
“We’ve done this every year with Groundwork, for at least the past five years,” said Cook, who has worked at SHU for the past year and a half where she is also pursuing her Masters in Communications. “We also help Groundwork at various other times of the year. For instance, during our Community Connections Pre-Fall Program, we take 48 freshmen, put them in Bridgeport for a week and expose them to various service opportunities and the culture and history of the city. Really, any time they have a project come up, we will help out. We really try to meet the needs of the community in any way we can.”
Cook was very involved in service in college and said she wanted to pursue a career in non-profit. To that end, after graduating, she worked at a drop-in center in New York, helping homeless adults. “When I saw this opportunity at SHU, it was appealing as I wanted other students to find a passion in service and that it could be a lifelong commitment,” she said. “Service doesn’t have to end after college. SHU is such a great community to be a part of – that was attractive as well.”
Student participants in the morning Fall Sweep ran the gamut in terms of academic backgrounds, but many had been part of other programs like Habitat for Humanity. “They had gotten a taste for service work, and the Kappa Sigmas participate every year in the Sweep,” said Cook.
At James Brown Park, Groundwork Executive Director Jack Dillon gave the students their work assignments and they set about raking leaves and clearing brush from the waterfront, which was snarled with invasive plants and weeds and dotted with trash and discarded items like a car bumper, a bureau and tires.
Josh Keane, student president of Kappa Sigma, was among the group and remarked, “Community service is one of the most important things you can do. A lot of people take it for granted. We’ve got a good crew out here.”
At the opposite end of the park, two dozen students from Central High and Bassick High Schools helped plants trees under the guidance of Vernon Sanders of non-profit Build-On, and Chris Donnelly, an Urban Forestry Coordinator with the Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection. These students were also outfitted with equipment from Groundwork.
Meanwhile, at William Barnum Park, SHU students, under the guidance of Laura Bubela, a landscape architect from the Boston area assisting Groundwork, were also busy raking and tree planting, as well as digging shallow trenches along a perimeter fence for daffodil, tulip and crocus bulbs. The group was picking up loose rock and brick debris, too, stumbling upon disturbing items in the process like a knife, razor blade and bag of marijuana.
In the end, the areas the students had toiled in looked orderly, fresh and appealing to any visitor hoping to enjoy them. The groups were rewarded with a cookout in a back lot behind Groundwork headquarters, situated on Barnum Avenue midway between the two parks.