Archive | September, 2019

Creative Altruism

26 Sep

Most mornings when I manage to write, I do so to the tune of the Soundscapes Channel on my television.

Well, to be truthful, the meditative music on Soundscapes often seems to barely have a tune at all; its very appeal is its lack of melodic busy-ness, the refusal to insist that you pay the music any attention at all.

Only, since it’s TV, there are slides, and the slides include inspirational quotes. I seldom write them down; I’d never write any of my own words if I did. But I made an exception a month ago with a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Every man,” Rev. King stated, “must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”

“Creative altruism”: The tension between those words intrigued me. In one of my earlier lives, I’d left Alabama – and a life filled with volunteer obligations – for a creative writing program. Wary of the threat of my extrovert tendencies posed for any kind of solitary writerly endeavor, I shirked volunteerism as if altruism itself existed in opposition to creativity.

Of course, I came to know better: Service can involve a wide range of creative and even ingenious acts. Still, for the last few months, I haven’t been sure what to do with the quotation from MLK, even though it reminded of its existence every time I scrolled to the bottom of the word document I use as my writing journal.

Then came Lisa Pastille. Lisa is the sister of the late Professor Catherine Pastille, one of our most creative practitioners of community service-learning at Assumption College. Lisa saw my recent blog about Catherine here at Serving … the Story, and I was blessed to read two emails from Lisa afterward.

Lisa noted how her sister thrived when she merged business expertise with community service, putting her students to work for real-life customers.

As Lisa put it, “Assumption made it possible for her to express herself and her passions.” The result, Lisa said, was like “plugging a wire into an outlet.”

Lisa, an artist herself, was reminding me of my earlier life lesson: That the obligations of community service don’t exist in opposition to the creative life. Instead, service itself is an energizing form of self-expression.

And when teachers use service-learning in the classroom, we’re expressing several things  at once: Our need to design learning experiences that might make a difference in their lives decades after they graduate, our passion about fostering awareness of community needs and issues, our commitment to imaginative teaching that sets aside the safety of old classroom for something more adventurous – because that, after all, is what creativity, and altruism, are so often about.

Celebrating Our Friend, Catherine Pastille

13 Sep
Catherine Pastille with African Community Education’s Kaska Yawo and student Lauren Cranston.

When Catherine Pastille came to teach Management at Assumption College in 2012, she didn’t waste any time applying the principles of community service-learning to her coursework. Even though Catherine was new to Worcester, she began forming CSL partnerships in the community as soon as she arrived, leading to CSL components in two courses and four total sections in her first year.

Her Management 311 course emphasized the need for students to actually experience Corporate Social Responsibility: “By working alongside professionals from corporations that take their responsibility to the community seriously,” Catherine wrote, “students are able to see how modern organizations strategically integrate their service to the community and their responsibilities to the natural environment into their everyday work life.”

The one I experienced directly, however, was her Management 100 students boldly taking on the planning and execution of a College Access Day for kids from African Community Education, an organization devoted to helping African refugees and other immigrants close the educational gap they encounter in adapting to an English-speaking school system and myriad other challenges.

Enjoying lunch amid the ACE College Access Day.

In the process, Catherine Pastille created plenty of challenges for herself and her students – one can easily imagine every logistical hitch that can arise in transporting a busload of kids to a college campus, moving them through every phase of a campus visit, and getting them home again. Especially when part of the challenge is giving one’s students space to do as much of the planning, execution, and critiquing as possible … yet students and professor teamed to facilitate a great day for refugee children, helping expand their vision of future possibilities in their new country. (You can read more about that extraordinary day in an earlier blog about the occasion.)

Sadly, the Assumption community lost this innovative and altruistic teacher and colleague this June after a long illness. So this morning I find myself launching the revival of Serving the Story by writing about her. I’m even reading the grant applications and syllabi from Catherine’s CSL courses – so bold and ambitious, the mark of a fearless teacher with a broad vision.

Of course, as I read what she wrote and scan the photos, I feel the sadness of what the Community Service-Learning Program and Assumption College as a whole lost with her passing. But my heart is warmed by memories of Catherine moving through all the steps of that day with a bemused grin, teaching her students how to navigate all the unknowns with a well-struck balance of serious focus and a sense of humor – and, in the process, help our students farther down the path to being mature, confident professionals and altruistic, empathetic citizens.

We will continue to miss Catherine Pastille – but we’ll continue to be inspired by her example.

One of Catherine’s students enjoying a visit with one of ACE’s.

%d bloggers like this: