Getting Oriented to the Community

Getting Oriented to the Community

Kneeling on a concrete slab covered with splinters and wood dust, new student Kathryn LaMontagne 18 FS lays down her paintbrush to inspect a large wooden box with a circular hole at the top. She’s finishing up making a beanbag toss carnival game – not for a festive back-to-school party but as part of her volunteer work at DownCity Design, a local nonprofit that helps Providence residents build playgrounds, chess tables, garden beds and other community projects to improve their neighborhoods.

“I practically grew up in my father’s woodshop, so using rasps and planers to smooth down the edges of this piece felt really natural,” LaMontagne explains while wiping her paint-speckled face with a balled-up t-shirt. “It’s amazing to know our sweaty efforts will benefit Providence neighborhoods that are practically in RISD’s backyard.”

The hands-on help at DownCity was just one of the projects new students participated in last week as part of RISD’s Pre-Orientation Service Experience (POSE), a four-day volunteer opportunity led by 14 upperclass students working with 45 of the 451 incoming freshmen. In addition to the carpentry work, students practiced altruism at various sites surrounding RISD, including at the arts nonprofit AS220, the local affiliate of the Ronald McDonald House, Providence Children’s Museum and working with CityArts at local elementary schools. One group laced up hiking boots to complete yardwork and trail upkeep at the Audubon Society of Rhode Island.

“The goal of the program is to allow RISD students to step outside the classroom and into the community where they can get involved with social justice issues such as education reform, poverty and gender inequality,” notes Andy Jacques, assistant director for leadership programs in RISD’s Center for Student Involvement (CSI). “These experiences help them develop leadership and professional skills that complement their studio practice. It’s amazing to watch as they become acutely aware and thoughtfully engaged with their surroundings.”

Nadine Zaza BArch 16, one of the student leaders volunteering for POSE, was especially struck by a trip to the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation, the state’s central landfill. As one of the first students to sign up for RISD’s new Nature-Culture-Sustainability Studies (NCSS) concentration, she’s intrigued by the commercial composting process at the RIRRC.

“You don’t think about what happens to your litter after it makes its way to the trash bin – but it’s important to understand that these discarded items just don’t evaporate into thin air,” the Architecture major explains. “Our landfills don’t need any extra padding. I’ll remember this the next time I’m designing a building.”

Another group lent helping hands at Recycle-A-Bike in Olneyville, a neighborhood known for its artists’ collectives in abandoned factories and warehouses. “We wanted to introduce new students to the south end of Providence,” explains Jacques. “It’s a beautiful neighborhood that has a lot to offer – especially for artists and people involved with community-based projects. It’s in a part of the city they shouldn’t be afraid to explore.”

On another side of the city, a group of students rolled up their sleeves to add some exterior beauty to a hidden safe house managed by the Women’s Center of Rhode Island, an organization that provides shelter and advocacy to victims of domestic violence. To add some cheer to the building that’s a temporary home to single women and young families, POSE volunteers planted a garden filled with mustard-colored marigolds and purple daisies. They also painted a jungle-themed mural on a brick wall protecting a small playground.

“Domestic abuse and other societal issues can’t be swept under the carpet – they affect everyone,” notes Molly Millette 18 FS. “If we all pitch in, we can do phenomenal things to help make a better world.”

–Abigail Crocker

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