At Conn College, freshman orientation now includes crash course on helping New London

New LondonHundreds of freshmen from Connecticut College fanned out across the city Saturday to give back to the community that will be their home for the next four years.

Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio, who visited the school to welcome the group before they set out, said he hoped the community service day during freshman orientation would be the start of an enduring partnership between the Class of 2017 and the city.

“Between the Coast Guard Academy and Connecticut College, we have two standing armies on the north side of New London,” he said. “Their participation in the civic and cultural life here can have a tremendous impact on the lives of New Londoners.”

Finizio told the students that New London will be an amazing place for them to learn because it is home to so many people of diverse backgrounds, but he said the city faces challenges and is economically depressed.

“Today alone will make the city shine, and we appreciate it,” he said. “But don’t allow your life to be on the hill. Come down. You can make a difference.”

More than 400 freshmen, along with a group of transfer students and upperclassmen who were helping supervise the trip, were split up among about 10 sites in the city to help with various projects. This is the second year that community service has been incorporated into orientation.

“This immerses you in the New London community right away when you get on campus,” said Jared Parlin, a freshman from Allentown, Pa. “And it creates a better bond between the college and the community.”

The students helped clean up Ocean Beach and Riverside Park. They spruced up community gardens and volunteered at the Homeless Hospitality Center, Gemma E. Moran United Way/Labor Food Center and local schools.

At the garden for FRESH, a nonprofit group dedicated to building a local food system, students painted picnic tables, cleaned and planted seeds. Several students spent the morning clearing an overgrown pathway so mulch could be laid down.

“This shows where the college’s priorities lie. They want us to give back and be a part of the community,” said Roberto Gochicoa, of Detroit, one of the freshmen working on the path.

“This is only our second day,” said Melissa Ferrie, a freshman from St. Louis. “This is going to be a big part of our education so we can be good citizens, wherever we’re living.”

“We shouldn’t be insular,” added Randsel Brannum, a freshman from New York City.

Arthur Lerner, founder and director of FRESH, said he appreciated the help because it can be tricky to find time to get all of the hard labor done while focusing on the group’s educational endeavors.

The college’s mission is to educate students to put the liberal arts into action as citizens in a global society, said Tracee Reiser, the college’s associate dean for community learning. Reiser said it was important to welcome the students both to Connecticut College and to New London.

“We feel very strongly that an essential part of their education is to become engaged in communities and develop their civic abilities,” she said. “We want them to study and understand the challenges communities face and work with others to address them.”

The college does not require students to perform community service, but some professors do as part of their coursework. Reiser, who is from New London, said the college has many community partners in the city and will offer the students opportunities to continue volunteering after the orientation.

Like many of her classmates, Katherine Melvin, a freshman from Carlisle, Mass., said she volunteered in her hometown throughout high school.

“It’s a great way to give back,” she said. “We’re in a new community now, so we should give back here, too.”

j.mcdermott@theday.com

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