August 29, 2017

Elms students give back to community through Dorothy Day Service Program

Staff report

Elms students weed vegetable garden beds at Nuestra Raices in Holyoke. (IObserve photos/courtesy of Elms College)


CHICOPEE – A large group of College of Our Lady of the Elms students – some upperclassmen, some incoming freshmen – gathered on campus a week early this summer to give back to the western Massachusetts community as part of the college’s Dorothy Day Service Program.

Organized by Elms College’s Office of Campus Ministry, the Dorothy Day Service Program allows students to take part in a weeklong service experience at a Sisters of St. Joseph-sponsored ministry or in a local social service agency. The program is open to all incoming first-year students; returning students may apply to serve as student leaders.

Elms students painted and raked at Genesis Spiritual Life Center in Westfield.

This year’s Dorothy Day program ran from Aug. 20 to 25. Agencies supported this year included Homework House, where Elms students helped prepare the facility for the new school year; The Gray House in Springfield, where they assisted immigrants preparing for their citizenship tests and worked in the food pantry; grassroots urban agriculture organization Nuestra Raices in Holyoke, where they weeded vegetable beds; Genesis Spiritual Life Center in Wesfield, where they painted and raked; and Providence Ministries for the Needy at Kate’s Kitchen food pantry in Holyoke, where they painted and organized the space.

The program is named for Dorothy Day, a Catholic woman who cofounded The Catholic Worker. Inspired by her faith, she actively served the poor by providing food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and hospitality to all. Day passed away in 1980, but her activism for a just society and dedication to peace continues to inspire and challenge the Elms community to have a “revolution of the heart.”

Through this kind of service work, the Dorothy Day volunteers had a chance to explore and reflect on Catholic Social Teaching and the essence of life at Elms College. The students also were called in daily group reflections to consider their own experiences and those of the people they have served. Student leaders facilitated open discussions on the experiences at their service sites, while also exploring spiritual themes.

The Dorothy Day experience allows students to serve the local community while becoming engaged in the charism of the college’s founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph, by “uniting neighbor with neighbor, and neighbor with God, without distinction.”