Guest column Desire’ Jackson-Crosby: College students: Take something permanent from your short stay

  • Amherst Survival Center. gazette file photo

Thursday, October 17, 2019

In my ideal world, summer is a blank calendar and sunny days, waiting for me to write my plans of travel and relaxation all over it. In a realistic world, my summers can’t afford such luxury.

As a student at UMass, thoughts of where I’d intern and jobs to apply for started to pour into my dreamy head well before May came to an end. One day this last spring, shortly before the end of the semester, I had a plan. I’d intern at a media outlet in Amherst and do a paid work-study at the Amherst Survival Center.

As a journalism major, my interest in the latter position may seem strange. Some might even deem it unnecessary, given I could be using that time to gain experience in my perspective job field.

After my journalism internship fell through due to an unexpected circumstance, I held to interning at the Survival Center. I got so many questions when I’d tell people about my plans.

I’d hear, “so you’re gonna commute for an hour?”

Yes, I was going to commute an hour from my hometown of Fitchburg, to do an internship that looked completely unrelated to journalism.

“It’s just like commuting to Boston for a job,” I’d reply.

Even with that logic, I had second thoughts while paying for gas every other day and embarking on the drive. But those second thoughts were always put to rest during my days at the Survival Center.

I interned in the community store as help to Susan Cox, the store coordinator. Susan, often reading emails when I stepped into her office every morning, always greeted me with a singsong “hello” that I sometimes found myself doing when greeting volunteers.

My days had a basic structure that fluctuated in detail. Every day, I’d be doing things like accepting donations, organizing the store, or helping shoppers “check out.” The happenings in-between varied depending on volunteers for the day or the donations that came in.

While interning, there grew this feeling of warmth that tied me to Amherst in a way I didn’t expect. On a recent trip downtown at the end of the summer, I found myself recognizing people I’d helped in the store or ate next to at lunch. I cared about the people I recognized and missed those I didn’t see.

This past summer, I felt a sense of home. And it wasn’t because I go to college in town.

I felt like I was reading Amherst’s pulse. I listened to participants talk about housing issues and politics. I got to know the stories and quirks of frequent visitors — the man from African collecting items for his village, the fashion savvy Smith College grad with an eye for vintage clothing. I cried alongside the community when we suffered the loss of a volunteer and grew excited when a new staff member was hired to fill a much-needed gap.

My experience last summer made me want this feeling of investment for every college student in Amherst. Sure, carousing downtown with friends is fun. But, beyond that stretch of road, there’s a beautiful building on 138 Sunderland Road filled with people that make up the fabric of the Amherst that college students enjoy.

I learned so much about the kind of work I want to do as a journalist. I realized that I want to write for the community, and I want the community to resonate with what I write. I learned the many names and backgrounds of volunteers, managing donations, and better communication. But ultimately, I learned that miles and money are nothing compared to a chance to change and be changed.

I also learned not to pronounce the “h” in Amherst.

If I could get every single college student in one room, I would say to them “volunteer at the Survival Center!” Don’t let these four years slip away without meeting the people that live in the town you’ve adopted as a temporary home. Open yourself up to all the sides of Amherst. Hear stories that make you cry and want change for the residents. Get to know the good-hearted volunteers and staff that make you laugh and feel lighter about the world we live in. Even if it’s for a couple hours a week — get involved.

After you’ve graduated, you may or may not stay in Amherst. But, knowing you were able to give of yourself and make a difference only you could make — that will travel with you wherever post-grad life takes you.

Desire’ Jackson-Crosby is an intern at the Daily Hampshire Gazette.