First-Year Students Make New Friends, Get to Know the Community and Give Back

First-year students volunteered at sites across the region on Feinstein Community Connections day, an RWU tradition that takes place every year before classes begin.

By Julia Rubin
Group photo of students and president holding rakes on a path.
Students volunteer with President Ioannis Miaoulis and partner Heidi Maes, and Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing Brian Williams at Mount Hope Farm.

Bristol, R.I. — Last week, students moved into their dorms, said goodbye to their families and settled into the place they’ll call home for the next four years. Their first order of business as an RWU student? Get to know their peers and their new community on Feinstein Community Connections day.  

On Monday, Aug. 26, some 1,100 new first-years participated in this tradition that takes place every year before the first day of classes. First-year students spread out across the region to 39 different sites in Rhode Island and Southeastern Massachusetts, picking fresh produce for local food pantries, cleaning up beaches, doing activities with youth and adults, and more.  

Students clearing out brush.
Students clear brush at Mount Hope Farm.

One group, made up of the newest members of the Queer/ Trans Living Learning Community (LLC), travelled to Providence to volunteer at Youth Pride, Inc, a nonprofit organization that provides support, education and advocacy for LGBTQQ youth.  

Students worked together to sort donated books into categories, all while singing along to 90s tunes, laughing and building new friendships.  

“I’ve really enjoyed bonding with everyone,” said construction management major Alyssa Foerster, adding to a giant stack of books. “We’re having a lot of fun together.”  

Working together towards a shared goal of giving back to the community definitely lends itself to bonding. This particular site is unique in that the space, and the books the students are sorting, are for people that share their identities.   

“I am really enjoying the environment of acceptance,” said marine biology major Ben Cardello. Cardello noted the room itself, full of rainbow flags, eye-catching posters and inspiring quotes.  

Students sort books.
Students sort books at Youth Pride, Inc.

Gabby Porcaro, site leader and assistant director for queer and trans student initiatives, thinks Community Connections day is beneficial for several reasons.  

“It allows our incoming class to see different parts of Rhode Island, forge partnerships and see what it means to be in a reciprocal community,” Porcaro said.  “Having the first-year students that are a part of our Queer and Trans LLC come here and get to see an agency that works specifically with their community, which is queer and trans youth, allows them to automatically get plugged into a resource they can use or serve at in the future if they want.”  

In addition to learning about resources in Providence, other groups worked with community members right here in Bristol. Students went to Franklin Court Assisted/Independent Living center, where they helped with a number of tasks. They helped beautify the grounds, washed cars and served lunch. They also spent time with the senior residents, eating with them and playing bingo. These students got to create a connection across generations, both sharing with and learning from the residents.   

“They inspire me,” said Betty Ann Cirillo, a resident of Franklin Court. “Their youth, their vigor, their plans for life."

While some groups worked with human-service organizations, others supported environmental initiatives. A group headed to our local Bristol Town Beach to support the town’s efforts towards coastal resiliency and sustainability. The volunteers cleaned trash from the shoreline and parks, while learning about the projects, many involving RWU students, to prevent stormwater runoff that causes beach closures. Since those projects began, Town Beach went from having five to six beach closures to one beach closure a year.  

Volunteers picking up trash on the beach
Vice President for Enrollment Management and Marketing Brian Williams, Adjunct Professor of Anthropology & Sociology Shelby Carpenter, and President Ioannis Miaoulis and partner Heidi Maes, work with students to clean up the shoreline of Bristol Town Beach.

Working and learning alongside the students at Bristol Town Beach was our new President Ioannis Miaoulis, who also pitched in at two other sites throughout the day. He enjoyed getting to know his fellow community members, volunteering at three beautiful spots in Bristol and witnessing the incoming class experience the RWU commitment to community firsthand.  

“The first days of a student’s experience are ones that define in many ways their future path, and to start with a strong spirit of volunteering and bonding with the community is very important,” said Miaoulis.  “It’s wonderful that they spend a full day with their classmates and their professors, getting to know each other. And it’s their first experience of being Roger Williams Civic Scholars – students who use their skills and knowledge to volunteer and contribute to the community, not only offering the community something valuable but also empowering them to grow personally and professionally.”