Sacred Heart University Dean of Students Larry Wielk in the commentary that follows emphasizes the economic, volunteer and social contributions students make in Bridgeport.
During the past couple of weeks since we heard about the proposal from local politicians to limit the number of unrelated people who can live together in a house or apartment from four to a maximum of three individuals, we have been very vocal about why we think it is a bad idea. That is not what this letter is about. We have also talked about how we have continually worked with North End residents to help them solve their issues with our students living there. We responded to the characterization of our students living in the North End as “a college dormitory run amok.” This letter is not about that, either. This letter is about the incredible contributions that our students make to the Bridgeport community on a daily basis.
The first contribution is economic. According to a study by the Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges, direct spending in the state by our students last year was $99,440,463. Visitors to the University spent another $1,623,550. Much of that was spent in Bridgeport. Our students grocery shop, buy gas, dine out, shop for clothes, visit hair and nail salons and, yes, pay rent in Bridgeport. Their families also take them to dinner, take them shopping and stay in area hotels when they visit them here.
Even more important, though, is the contribution these students make to the Bridgeport community through their volunteerism. Our students volunteer more than 100,000 hours each year–many of those hours in Bridgeport. Just this past weekend a large contingent of young women from Delta Zeta sorority did a major cleanup at Seaside Park. Last week students raised funds for Habitat for Humanity for housing in Bridgeport, and another group participated in a read aloud day.
Student Government and Volunteer Programs & Service Learning have just kicked off their annual Thanksgiving turkey and food drive. Over the past few years, students have delivered Thanksgiving meals to St. Charles Church in Bridgeport to feed more than 700 families. They have set the same aggressive goal for this year, which entails raising more than $12,000 this year alone. These students have laid down a challenge to the North End political leaders who have been so vocal: Match us turkey for turkey. And match our community service hour for hour.
We could fill pages with the work that our students do–both weekly and as one-off events–but we will share just a few.
Every day of every week, students serve meals at the Thomas Merton Center. Several days a week, students help with homework at the Curiale School, Summerfield Methodist Church and Hall Neighborhood House. They provide enrichment activities for residents at the Northbridge Senior Center and do art activities for adults with developmental disabilities at the Margaret Daly Arts Cooperative. They read aloud in elementary school classrooms and present Project Strong–a female empowerment program for middle school students. Student-athletes serve as mentors to Bridgeport students.
In fact, the Princeton Review has named our students number 13 nationwide in its category “Students Most Engaged in Community Service.”
There will continue to be times of friction, and we will continue to work with residents and the City to find solutions. But we are asking that you also recognize the very real contribution that our students make in the Bridgeport community. Most of our students choose Sacred Heart because of its vision for social justice and mission to prepare them to make a difference in the global community. Each summer, a large group of freshmen spend a week immersed in Bridgeport learning the customs and traditions of its various residents and volunteering in a variety of programs–all before they have even attended a class. We ask that you appreciate them for the vital members of the community that they are. As they continue to feel disrespected by the leadership in Bridgeport, they are questioning why they should continue to volunteer in a city that doesn’t appreciate their work. Maybe the critics could fill that void should it occur.
Larry Wielk, dean of students