Feature Article

The Fulfillment of Service

By Samantha Mocle

Photo by Todd Dionne

Neighborhood children scramble around the mayor of Waltham, Massachusetts, as she cuts the ceremonial ribbon to re-open Peter Gilmore Playground. At the podium stands Nicholas Abruzzi, director of the city's recreation department. Shouts and squeals of excitement pepper the atmosphere as he recalls what stood in the space before its $2 million transformation.

Jobs such as his are in high demand, with employment of social and human service professionals projected to grow 14 percent by 2026, according to the United States Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. In Massachusetts alone, the Commonwealth hopes to add 25,000 positions by 2027 to meet demand, per a recent report from the Massachusetts Council of Human Service Providers. Abruzzi sees this in his own department as an increasing workload of budgeting, facility and permit management, capital improvements, and daily programming strains the bandwidth of his small team.

The anticipated growth is above average for all occupations, in part due to increased awareness of these services' communal benefits. The good news for those seeking to enter the field is that many characteristics of a good candidate reside in their character and charisma, not just their resume.  

In his 21st year with the Waltham Recreation Department, Abruzzi - an instructor at Lasell - is still amazed at the wealth of services and facilities his small team has brought to a community of more than 70,000 people.

"We are really lucky here [in Waltham]," he says. "We continue to get funding for projects, which allows us to deliver to a vast and diverse population of people. There is something about this city and its communities that you can't really find anywhere else."

Nicholas Abruzzi, Director, Waltham Recreation Department and Instructor, Lasell College | Photo by Todd Dionne

"When your work serves a community, you have to feel comfortable working with a lot of opinions. When I teach sport management or recreation leadership courses at Lasell, I try to instill in my students the importance of dealing with people on a daily basis. In Waltham, my staff and I do a community event every season, weekly programs, and million-dollar upgrades to parks and playgrounds. It's so busy all the time, but [worth it to] see families enjoy what we've created for them."

On any given day, one might find Michaela Tomlinson '14 crafting grocery lists, balancing personal budgets, or developing community activities for residents under her care at Lifeworks, Inc. As a program manager, Tomlinson works with a small staff of teacher/counselors to oversee the care of five individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Down syndrome, or development disorders. She doesn't view her job as a collection of to-do lists and tasks, but rather, she sees herself as a fierce advocate for those under her charge.

"A lot of my role is advocating for [these individuals] in the community and helping them keep ties wherever they go.  For adults with disabilities, it can be hard to connect with those who don't have that experience, and so I try to help them find that type of normalcy by getting involved in activities or groups with people of all backgrounds," she says.  

Her propensity for service is heightened by unparalleled patience. She sees herself as a partner in each resident's success, and that investment pays off through active participation in their lives.

"If someone is willing to listen in this world, so many good things can come from that," says Tomlinson. She honed that skill at Lasell College's Center for Community- Based Learning (CCBL), where she served as a tutor and peer manager in Boston-area youth programs.

"I learned to treat everybody - children, especially - with patience and respect. At a young age, they are so ready to learn. When you get to know them and understand why they behave or think the way they do, that's when you can make a big difference," she says.

That skill transferred rather seamlessly to her job at Lifeworks. Though Tomlinson's work is limited to her five clients and support team at just one of the organization's many group homes, the impact does not feel restrictive to her.

"The ability to serve people, no matter how many, is what keeps me there," she says. "It is a humbling experience."

Michaela Tomlinson '14, Program Manager, Lifeworks, Inc. | Photo by Todd Dionne

"My clients look forward to talking to me. They rely on my team's enthusiasm. If they had a good day, they want to tell us about it and to see how excited we are for them. When they have bad news, they want our advice to help them sort through their feelings and to find a solution. There are a lot of unexpected laughs, too! Some [of my clients] are incredibly funny and charismatic. They have big personalities. A lot of people outside of the field don't understand how to interact with people with disabilities, and so I appreciate that my clients put their trust in me to help them cope, and that I can use the right words to help them get where they need to be."

Nestled beneath tree-lined mountains and a sparkling bay with a pebbled cove sits the town of Grand Goâve, Haiti. It is here that a young boy runs up to Danielle Cutillo '15, media coordinator for the nonprofit Be Like Brit, his hand gesturing toward a new house built in his neighborhood. "I'd like a house that color. Blue is my favorite." His current abode squeezes a family of six under metal sheets, tarp, and rocks.

Cutillo's role puts her behind the camera at Be Like Brit's orphanage in Grand Goâve, where more than 90 percent of infrastructure was destroyed in a 2010 earthquake. The organization and its facility - a seismically designed orphanage and volunteer center - seeks to raise its resident children to become well-educated leaders, and to rehabilitate the surrounding town with permanent houses for its locals. Though Cutillo isn't the one building these structures, she works to share these opportunities through social media to a global audience.

To have a voice is an advantage. To be heard is a privilege. It is this idea that fuels Cutillo, Abruzzi, and Tomlinson in their daily work within these communities.

"It's hard sometimes to know how my role impacts the world," says Cutillo. "I have really taken time to reflect on that. I know that I love telling people's stories, and I hope that I can be a voice for those who might not have a platform."  

It's what she loves most about her job, and what makes the work so rewarding.

"These people are my community. I talk to them every day, and the feeling I get is hard to describe. With a background in communications, I can use my skills to share those reflections and observations on social media and our blog, and hopefully inspire people to ask questions about the work we are doing and how they can help."

This is the core of what keeps Abruzzi's work relevant and community-minded.

"The public informs every single project we do." That's a big asset that gets overlooked in service-oriented work, he says. "We don't just design a project, put it out to bid, and throw new facilities up at random. We ensure that the community has a say in the future of their city."

Danielle Cutillo '15 at Be Like Brit Foundation

"Haiti is the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, yet it is rich in community. There is so much faith, hope, and love. In my sophomore year at Lasell, I took a Lasell Alternate Break (LAB) trip with the Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL) to New Mexico that totally changed my direction. The conversations I had sparked a fire in me. After that, nonprofits had my heart. To me, service entails using your talents and abilities to help others. In my case, it is using my communication skills - feature writing, photography, social media management - to elevate the needs of people whose voices should be heard far beyond their own communities."

Volunteerism and full-time service jobs are often viewed altruistically, but Abruzzi, Tomlinson, and Cutillo all admit that they get just as much out of the work as their constituents - and that there is nothing shameful about the gratification. Tomlinson adds that there is an element of self-improvement that should accompany these interpersonal connections.

"People don't realize how much service can do for both parties. The interactions force you to grow and learn about different people and ideas," she says. "Service is not just what you do, but what you think about what you do." 

"Some students are still figuring out who they are and what their place is in the world. The CCBL meets them where they are and supports them in connecting and becoming, while understanding where they fit into the picture of contributing to the common good." Tiesha 'Byrd' Hughes, associate director of the Center for Community-Based Learning at Lasell College | Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL) The CCBL supports annual student-led Lasell Alternate Breaks (LAB) service trips, which engage with themes such as homelessness and disaster relief in cities around the U.S. It also manages the Partnerships for Academic Confidence and Educational Success (PACES) program, in which Lasell students visit local after-school programs to mentor and tutor young students. Carnegie Classification: Lasell holds a community engagement classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching in recognition of its commitment to social justice and public service. Shoulder to Shoulder: International service learning projects broaden student impact in communities around the world. Academics and Athletics: The CCBL works with faculty to devise projects with community partners, in which students work with actual clients to find real-time solutions. In the athletics department, each of Lasell's 17 teams creates of participates in service programs, such as nationwide fundraisers or local youth sport clinics.

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