Cummins Summer Program Combines Work and Community Life

Twelve Saint Mary's College students who are passionate about social justice will begin an eight-week program on May 31 that combines work at nonprofit agencies with a community living experience.

The Cummins Summer for the Common Good, which is part of the Bonner AmeriCorps Program at Saint Mary's, allows students to do meaningful work with underserved and marginalized populations while earning a service award of $1,500 for their hours of service.

Megan Rodriguez '07, a 20-year-old who's majoring in psychology, will work with toddlers at the WeCARE Services for Children in Concord, which serves young children up to age 6 with developmental disabilities, emotional disturbance and other disabilities.

Rodriguez said the program is a perfect fit because she's interested in a career working with children and adolescents.

"I can always say I want to do that, but until I try it, I'll never know if it's really for me,'' she said.

But that is only part of the program's appeal.

"I really like the idea of living in a community," she said. "We'll have our days where we can all get together and share with each other what everybody's doing. It's a support group. And I'll also get to know a different group of people."

The students will live for free in a residence hall and use a common budget to purchase food. They'll prepare one meal together each week, and will share responsibility for chores and housekeeping, said Molleen Dupree, Saint Mary's assistant director for residential service learning.. The students also receive free public transportation for their commutes to their jobs.

The program, which is run by CILSA (the Catholic Institute for Lasallian Social Action) and the Office of Residence Life, is designed to offer students community service opportunities that are meaningful and provide hands-on job training.

"Seventy-five percent of the student's time should be spent in direct service, face-to-face with the client," Dupree said.

Along with WeCARE Services, students will be working at the St. Anthony Foundation, the General Assistance Advocacy Project and Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory High School in San Francisco; the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Visitation Center, the St. Vincent de Paul Men's Center and the Next Step Learning Center in Oakland, and the Women's Daytime Drop-In Center and the East Bay Sanctuary Covenant in Berkeley.

About a dozen students participated in the program last summer, and found it rewarding and challenging.

"This experience was awesome," said Justin Duchaineau '06. "I have never experienced so much livelihood in one area. From work, to community, the time spent here was full of life. You wouldn't regret this program if you joined, and you will leave the summer with such a changed perspective on life and the humans who occupy this earth."

Two students had such positive experiences last year that they are returning for a second Cummins summer this year. Vincent Sison '08 and Joey Lujan '07 will serve as Bonner Interns in the program, holding extra responsibilities for building community, handling paperwork and assisting students in their placements.

Rodriquez, who is currently a Bonner Leader working with youngsters at the Family Stress Center in Concord, said all the participants, who gathered last week for an introductory dinner, are excited about the program. She's especially pleased that another student, Amanda Long, a sociology student, will also work at WeCARE.

"This is a good community building opportunity," she said.

The program is named for John S. Cummins, emeritus Bishop of Oakland, who now serves as the chair of Catholic Thought in the Cummins Catholic Institute for Thought, Culture and Action at Saint Mary's College of California.

--Erin Hallissy
Office of College Communications