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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

URI Newman Club students volunteer during spring break

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Catholic Club mixes reflection, work, and fun

KINGSTON, R.I. -- March 15, 2004 -- When they could have basked in the Cancun sun, nine University of Rhode Island students and one alumna shoveled gravel in a greenhouse, prepared grounds for planting, and taught inner-city children something about the Ocean State.

The 10 are members of the URI Catholic Center's Newman Club, an international college organization that fosters spirituality, promotes community service and fun. For some members, giving up a traditional spring break is becoming part of their tradition. The Club has been doing such projects for the past 10 years.

"I always come back renewed and refreshed," says an enthusiastic Kristine Braley, a fifth year pharmacy student who has spent her last three spring breaks in service to others.

This year, the students, accompanied by the Rev. John Soares, Catholic chaplain, and Carol Maddock, campus minister, returned to the Empowerment Center in Goshen, N.Y., about 60 miles north of the Bronx which has acres of farmland and a retreat center owned and operated by the Christian Brothers.

The center has a greenhouse and organic gardens, including a peace garden dug by URI students on a previous spring break. Crops harvested are distributed to
impoverished families.

The person in charge of the Empowerment Centerís gardens is Sister Carol. Father Soares recalled the first year he went to the center and watched Sister Carol write a number of tasks needing to be done on the blackboard.

The students worked diligently, he said, crossing off the numerous tasks as they were completed. Later Sister Carol confessed to him that she had simply written her "wish list" on the blackboard, but when she saw how much the students were accomplishing, she decided not to intervene.

The Center acts as an outdoor classroom for children from the Highbridge Center in the Bronx. This year, however, Newman Club members spent a day at the inner city center, teaching the elementary students about Rhode Island, quahogs and all.

"The week gives the students an opportunity to see God in the face of the needy," says Father Soares, adding that the URI students attend morning and evening prayer. "It gives them time to reflect and ask themselves why poverty exists. What in our structure needs to change?"

"Lent is a good time to reflect," says sophomore Michael Haskell of Pawtucket who finds community service spiritually gratifying. "Itís a chance for me to develop a personal relation with my faith and with God," says the English and secondary education double major.

When asked about the relationship between his faith and community service, he connects the dots by saying: "I think focusing on social justice is part of being a Catholic."
"I didnít want to be part of the MTV-kind-of spring break where students can be seen making bad choices," explains sophomore Rachel Smith of Scituate. "We accomplished so much last year, it didnít even feel like work."

"Community service is fostered by the URI Catholic Center," says Maddock, noting that the Newman Club generally undertakes one service project each month.

The URI and Newman Club lessons remain long after graduation. Three club alumni have joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps for a year, another alumnus is an Americorps member.

"We tell the students that their talents are their gift from God and when they use them, they are giving back to God," Father Soares says, noting, for example, one volunteer is an accountant for the Jesuits.