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Nov. 2023 News Blog

DATE: Wednesday, November 1, 2023

News briefs from the HCC campus and beyond

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Prof. Sheryl Civjan and her students in the new Itsy Bitsy Closet

Itsy Bitsy More
First there was the Itsy Bitsy Zoomcast, a pandemic-inspired series of video interviews produced by HCC's Early Childhood Education program that debuted in 2020. Later came the Itsy Bitsy Learning Lab, a suite of ECE classrooms modeled after pre-school and kindergarten facilities. In 2022, HCC opened the Itsy Bitsy Child Watch, a free service for student-parents in need of short-term childcare. And now, making its debut this month, is the latest offering in HCC's Itsy Bitsy franchise - the Itsy Bitsy Closet. Over the past two months, a storage room for surplus equipment on the first floor of the Marieb Building has been transformed by HCC students into a family-friendly resource room stocked with donated children's clothing, jackets, shoes, books, and more, with all of the items available for free to HCC student-parents. The Closet was the brainchild of Emily Webber, director of the Itsy Bitsy Child Watch program, who enlisted Professor Sheryl Civjan and her Psychology of Women students to take on the assignment as a Service Learning Project. The students collected donations on and off campus, and after weeding out the rejects, washed, folded, sorted, and stacked all the items, and organized the room over the course of the semester, while also putting together a Family Resource Guide for HCC student-parents. On Tuesday, Nov. 28, Webber invited Civjan and her students to the center to celebrate the opening (pictured above), and it wasn't long before nursing student Maddy Gray wandered in after picking up her 3-year-old son Orion from child watch (pictured in the thumbnail). Gray grabbed some winter clothes, while Orion picked out a book. "We got some nice shirts and pants," she said. "With one income and me going to school, this is especially helpful with how expensive clothes are right now. It's ridiculous, so this is a huge help. And they're nice clothes too." The Itsy Bitsy Closet is right next door to the Itsy Bitsy Child Watch Center (Marieb 130) and follows the same schedule, which changes daily based on student need, but is roughly 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. See more photos in our Facebook album ...

Julie Phillips, HCC director of Development, with alum Sarah Gaer '98

Soul Exhaustion (and Care)
The photos Sarah Gaer '98 displays at the beginning of her presentations all show the same unhappy little girl, chin down, never smiling, vacant. Gaer understands the little girl's sorrow  and pain, because it's her, born into a life as the daughter of a brilliant but violent and dangerous man who wound up in prison by the time she was 5. It wasn't until years later, after graduating from HCC and earning a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling from Antioch New England University that she learned to describe the long-term effects of that trauma as "soul exhaustion." Now, as a suicide preventionist, trauma responder, and author, Gaer travels the world talking about soul exhaustion as well as its remedy, "soul care." "Soul Exhaustion takes a deeper exploration of life circumstances such as poverty, adverse childhood experiences, racism, trauma and loss, and burnout and the holistic impact it has on who we are," she has written. Those experiences may be familiar to many community college students, she said Nov. 8 as the first guest in the HCC Alumni Association's new Alumni Speaker Series. "I want to acknowledge that education is soul care," she said during her presentation. "Education is the opportunity for something better. Education is the opportunity to figure out the essence of who you are. Education allows you to make meaning out of the experiences you've had. If it wasn't for Holyoke Community College, and later Antioch, I would never have been able to get out and fight for the things I fight for now. It's not my lived experience, unfortunately, that gets me on stages. It's my education that gets me there." (Above, Gaer, right, with Julie Phillips, HCC director of Development.)

HCC Line Cook students at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute stand by the new HCC Culiary Arts food truc,.

That's a Wrap
They huddled around a tabletop firepit, waiting in the midday chill for the marchers. Not long before, they had been in the kitchens of the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute filling more than 100 brown paper bags with a three-course lunch they had prepared for the hungry horde who would soon arrive. "What's in the bags?" someone asked. "Sweat. Spit. Love," they said. The spit was a joke, of course, sweat the effort they'd put into them. The love was real, provided by students in HCC's Line Cook Training program, a free program that helps unemployed or underemployed individuals learn new career skills. Their customers were the dozens of marchers following radio personality Monte Belmonte as he led the 14th Annual March for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts down Race Street, with a scheduled lunch stop at the Culinary Arts Institute. Marchers had their choice of a chicken or chickpea wrap (the vegan option), along with lentil salad and a chocolate tahini brownie. Lunch was served from HCC's new Culinary Arts food truck, making its first public appearance. "Yes, it's a very special day," said Line Cook instructor Maria Contreras, noting the occasion. It was also special occasion for the student-chef trainees as they got to practice cooking for a big crowd event as they might out in the workforce. "We started Friday," said student Lara Gonzalez from Springfield. "The amazing thing is that we're learning ServSafe as we go along. So we're keeping things like temperature control and cross contamination in mind as we work." (Above) Students in HCC's line-cook training program pose next to HCC's new culinary arts food truck. To see more photos from Monte's lunch visit to the culinary arts institute, please visit our Facebook photo album.  

HCC student Justis Connor

A Soldier's Story
One could hardly think of a better name for a soldier than Justis. Among his many responsibilities and duties – husband, father of two, HCC student – Staff Sergeant Justis Connor is a full-time member of the Army National Guard and president of HCC's Civilian and Military Organization, otherwise known as the C.A.M.O. Club. On Wednesday, Nov. 9, Connor, 27, gave the keynote address at the college's annual Veterans Day ceremony, during which he not only talked about the meaning of Veterans Day, but also about his own career. Raised in a military family, Connor, following in his father's footsteps, joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard at 18 after graduating from Holyoke High School. "I knew from a very young age that I wanted to serve," Connor said. He started as an infantryman. His first deployment was to the Middle East for a year-long peacekeeping mission with the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai Peninsula. Since then, he has served as a wheeled vehicle mechanic and recruiter and is now back in the infantry with the Army National Guard. At HCC, he is studying natural resources with the goal of one day working as a game warden. But pursuit of his degree will have to wait as he prepares for a year-long deployment to the Middle East in January. "Our veterans proudly laced up their boots and put on their uniforms when their country needed them," he said at the ceremony, "and they would proudly do it 100 times over again to ensure our freedom and way of life is preserved."

HCC Culinary Club

Culinary Club Caters
Diana Swanigan had had enough. She was tired of watching her culinary arts classmates eat lunch out of the vending machines at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts Institute. "A cup of Top Ramen you can get at the store for 50 cents," she said. "From the machine it's like $3.50, and it's just so unhealthy." She took a photo and sent it to Chef Tracy Carter, one of her professors. "I'm like, what are we doing? This is a kitchen. We have food." The reality is that most of the school week, HCC's culinary arts students are well fed. They get to consume what they cook during their lab classes in the CAI kitchens. But on Mondays, they have no labs. They're in classroom all day. They don't cook, and the main campus cafeteria is too far away. "I was one of those students who didn't have time to prepare food to bring, and I was one of those students who had to eat something," said Swanigan, who is vice president of the HCC Culinary Arts Club. She and Chef Tracy, the club advisor, cooked up the idea for the club to prepare to-go lunches  every Monday for their culinary classmates as the club's fundraising/community outreach project. The lunches launched Nov. 6, with Carter hawking a trayful of neatly packaged hot chicken and macaroni and cheese meals to students for $7 each. Swanigan and club president Marangelly Vargas-Gonzalez say they're looking forward to introducing their classmates to food from different cultures, given that the curriculum leans toward French/European-style cooking. For the second week, club members prepared Spanish-style chicken and white rice with vegetables, pumpkin, and potatoes. "We're trying to add a little bit of diversity, said Vargas-Gonzalez. (Photo: HCC Culinary Club President Marangelly Vargas-Gonzalez, left, and Vice President Diana Swanigan hold some to-go lunches the club prepares every Monday for their classmates at the HCC MGM Culinary Arts institute.)