The start of the 2014-2015 academic year marked the inaugural year of Emmanuel's Notre Dame Campus in the Fort Hill/Highland Park neighborhood of Roxbury. With the establishment of a new living-learning community for Emmanuel students, the opening also marked the return of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to the neighborhood - the College's founding order operated Notre Dame Academy on Washington Street, just a few short blocks from the site of the Notre Dame Campus, from 1854 to 1965.
"Three years ago, when we made the decision to purchase the property, we knew we wanted to make an ultimate connection with the mission and the values of the Sisters of Notre Dame," said Susan Benzie, director of residence life and housing. "It was an opportunity for Residence Life to put into action the values the Sisters hold so high."
The campus was conceived as a center for programs related to the College's mission, including retreats, reflection and prayer, spiritual direction, social justice and service-learning. The 26 students who lived at the Notre Dame Campus in its first year brought a new energy to the property - which served as the Society of St. Margaret Convent for a number of years - participating in a living-learning community made up of all faith backgrounds with a focus on reflection and service to the surrounding area.
"What's so special about this experience is that students are able to embed themselves in the community," Benzie said. "It's a unique opportunity to live in a place that many people have misconceptions about, to process the injustices, to meet people and to be part of the solution. It's about having that bridge between service and living."
"Campus Ministry has been very successful with Alternative Spring Break," she said of Emmanuel's weeklong, faith-based service trip that for the past four years has explored issues of food justice in the Roxbury area. "Students return from that week transformed, and we wanted to bring that to the Notre Dame Campus."
After an open house with community partners, Notre Dame Campus residents selected one of the organizations at which to fulfill the service requirement of four hours per week. This year, students had standing service commitments at Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), Community Servings, the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center, OLPH Mission Grammar School, Nazareth Residence, Project Hope, Sociedad Latina, St. Katharine Drexel Parish, St. Mary of the Angels Parish and the Greater Boston Food Bank.
Psychology major Kerri DiMauro '16 said she got even more out of her service role at the Hawthorne Youth and Community Center than she initially anticipated. In her position, she picked up 13 students from the Nathan Hale Elementary School and brought them back to the Center to work on homework, have recess, learn about nutrition and other activities.
"I have made such close relationships with these children, and even closer relationships with the adults," DiMauro said, naming longtime director Samantha Sadd, who passed away in February of this year, as a major influence. "She impacted my life tremendously in a very short time, with her quick mouth, fiery personality and passion for advocacy."
DiMauro, one of several students returning to Notre Dame Campus for a second year, noted that what started out as a requirement and could have felt like a "chore," quickly turned into something she looked forward to every week.
"I have taken so much more from this experience than I could have ever expected and am eternally grateful for the things I have learned and the friendships and relationship I have made," she said.
Accounting major Chelsea Cota '16 spent her year volunteering at Nazareth Residence for Mothers and Children, just a few blocks from the Notre Dame Campus.
"I loved spending four hours of my week at the Nazareth Residence," Cota said. "The staff there genuinely cares about making the lives of the families that live there better."
Cota felt she connected with both the staff and the mothers and was able to watch the children grow and learn over the course of the year.
"The majority of [the mothers] have been through very difficult and emotionally heartbreaking experiences, but they are working to improve their lives and create better futures for their children," Cota said. "Some families did move out of Nazareth and into their own spaces, and even though it was very sad to see them leave, it makes me so happy that they have been able to get jobs that make enough money to move into their own apartments and begin new chapters in their lives."
Though administrators and students acknowledged that there were some ups and downs during the first year due to the operation's newness and an unusually harsh winter, residents' issues were addressed and adjustments were made, and, moving forward, all involved are excited to see what the future holds.
"I have chosen to live at the Notre Dame Campus again next year because it really has become my home," Cota said. "That I have been able to live in my own room and only share a bathroom with one other student has been wonderful. I feel as though I can always be myself because that is my space."
"The whole experience is about transforming and growing as a college student and also as an individual in your life outside the college," Benzie added.
Benzie is also excited about the potential for developing the historical and social justice curriculum surrounding another piece of the property - the historic residence of the leader of Boston's anti-slavery cause, William Lloyd Garrison.
"I think the more we use it, the more we'll understand how special it is," she said. "It's groundbreaking; being part of this legacy is huge. To look back in 10 or 15 years and know that this is where Emmanuel's presence in the community started. It's an amazing choice."
The Urban Food Project
Another contribution of the community is the creation of the Urban Food Project. Prior to the campus opening, administrators from Emmanuel met with members of the Highland Park/Fort Hill community to determine what services Emmanuel could bring to the neighborhood. The Urban Food Project was established in response to an eagerness among residents to learn more about urban agriculture and food justice. The project connects Emmanuel students with neighbors and local community groups on the issue of food availability and nutrition, particularly among low-income families who may not qualify for government assistance but are unable to afford the healthy food they need for their families. In the fall of 2014, the College received a $25,000 grant from the New Balance Foundation to underwrite the inaugural year. Fort Hill resident and urban gardening expert Patti Moreno was brought into the project to advise Emmanuel on best practices.
One element of this project includes the planting and maintenance of an urban garden on the Notre Dame Campus. Seedlings for the garden were planted throughout the winter and early spring and housed in Emmanuel's greenhouse and the beds were filled on April's annual Spring Day of Service. The seedlings were transplanted by the core team of students and staff, along with the fourth-grade class of OLPH Mission Grammar School, in early May. The planting was highlighted in the Food section of The Boston Globe on May 26, 2015.