One Friday morning in late October, while the frost melted from the Front Campus lawn, Maine Central Institute students dispersed all over Pittsfield with rakes and trash bags to lend a helping hand.
October 29 was the 14th annual edition of MCI’s Fall Community Service Day. The growing autumn tradition sees students pitch in together to clean up local parks and residences before the snow falls. In their homeroom advisory groups, students left campus on foot to assigned locations around Pittsfield to rake leaves, stack firewood, and even help set up the public ice rink at The Pinnacle Ski Club.
The yearly tradition, organized by Academic Dean and Community Service Director Scott Giallombardo, is the school’s way of giving back to the community that has always offered its unwavering support. “Perhaps the greatest lesson that our students can learn is how to spread kindness by giving back to others,” said Mr. Giallombardo. “From raking and bagging leaves, to winterizing homes, our students did a wonderful job in looking after their community, and we are all very proud of them!”
Maine residents know that the beauty of October foliage comes with the often unenviable task of cleaning up yards when the leaves fall. For community members in Pittsfield, MCI’s day of helping has become an essential service.
Pittsfield resident Bev Rollins and her husband have hosted students at their home for Fall Community Service day for several years now. “It's a big help for us because getting up in years, it's hard to bend over and all of that, so that service is amazing,” Bev said. “And plus, it makes the community look so much nicer. I drove to town after the students left here, and I saw them working up on Somerset Avenue and thought, you know, what a great, great thing for these students to do to help our community look so good.”
Katherine and Clermont Spencer, also of Pittsfield, have relied on MCI students for their fall cleanup for at least five years, estimated Katherine. “We like having young people around because our kids and grandkids are all away from us now, but it's an awful big help to us as elderly people because there's a lot of things we can't do anymore, and we have to either hire out or make some other arrangements. The kids do an awful good job. I don't know if they realize how much help they are,” she said.
The effort by MCI students extends to municipal locations as well. Groups this year worked on Hathorn Park, Stein Park, and Fendler Park as well as the Town Library. Library Director Holly Williams has been bringing in MCI groups since the inception of Community Service Day some fifteen years ago. “We rely on them. We honestly rely on the community service days every year,” she said, adding “I love the young people! They bring more life [to the library].”
Helping out at the town library perhaps illustrates an important case in point for students: community service is an opportunity to take care of the town that serves them. It’s not uncommon to see MCI students shooting hoops at the Hathorn Park courts, and Williams said she sees students frequently in the library, “to check out books or materials, to study, or in some cases just to come hang out with some other people.”
MCI requires students to participate in community service as a graduation requirement. Many students complete their hours through volunteer efforts on their own time, but the Fall Community Service Day provides an opportunity to pick up a few extra hours during a school day.
Filling a graduation requirement is hardly the only benefit to volunteering, though, according to numerous studies. A research paper published by The Journal of Happiness Studies in 2020 found that people who volunteered recently report significantly higher levels of overall health and well-being, with those levels increasing the more one volunteers. In addition to increasing social connectedness and helping alleviate anxiety and depression, one study even suggests that efforts to serve one’s community can even lead to lower blood pressure and a longer life span. Another researcher found that those who give their time to others actually feel like they have more time on their hands to get things done.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over one third of Americans have experienced symptoms of anxiety and depression during the pandemic, and one national poll suggested that almost half of parents reported increased levels of depression/anxiety symptoms among their teenage children. The same poll indicates that increased screen time and social media as well as decreased interaction with peers were important factors in this trend.
Amidst the demands of pandemic teaching and learning, students and staff found that stepping away from the digital world and breathing some fresh air was just what they needed on a crisp October morning. Some students found that even while working hard, they find the work restful in its own way. “It frees up the mind, like a mental break,” said sophomore Addison Verrill. “And it’s on a Friday!”
“It was really nice community work,” said sophomore Jagotti Brown. “There’s a lot to do, but there’s a lot of people there to get it done quickly and to talk to while you work. You get the community service hours, and it's just a break from school.”
One community service day in October is not the antidote to the issues that teens face during the pandemic. But, for three hours on a crisp, sunny morning, MCI students worked together, communicated, and provided an essential service to those who needed it. While community members had their leaves bagged and their cord wood stacked, it might have been the volunteers who saw the most benefit. For that, we thank everyone who invited us to help out!
See more scenes from Community Service Day on our YouTube Channel