PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — On a bright early morning in Providence with a touch of summer on the breeze, Obasi Osborne stood amid a bevy of enthusiastic volunteers gathered atop the India Point Park entrance, overlooking a serene Seekonk River.
After David Riley, co-chair of the Friends of India Point Park, detailed the day’s work beautifying the park’s greenery, Osborne wasted little time in extracting a patch of weeds that had gained a foothold this spring.
“They’re big, they’re sharp, and they’re kind of in the way,” he said. “I figured I should get those out of the way as fast as possible, and it kind of makes everyone’s job easier.”
Osborne — a senior information technology consultant at Brown who serves as a mentor with Year Up Providence and volunteers at English for Action — rides a bicycle through the park regularly on his way to work. When he learned of the chance to clean up India Point Park as part of Brown’s annual Staff Development Day, he jumped at the opportunity.
“If we get to enjoy the good things in the city and the world,” Osborne said, “then why not help other people enjoy it in a similar way?”
He wasn’t alone. On June 8, Osborne and nearly 100 colleagues from across Brown’s offices, laboratories, dining facilities and elsewhere rolled up their sleeves on Staff Development Day, a day’s worth of programming for University staff to invest in both personal and professional growth. From building gardens at an elementary school to sprucing up Roger Williams National Memorial Park, a mix of service opportunities awaited.
According to organizer Angel Hilliard, service opportunities have been a part of Staff Development Day’s agenda for more than a decade.
“The program mirrors the mission of Brown, where teaching, research and public service are also our mission…” Hilliard said. “Over the years, staff have consistently said how having a day of community service has benefitted them personally and professionally. When we send a group of staff to Magaziner Farm in Bristol, those staff may have never encountered one another before that.”
Staff who volunteered shared Hilliard’s sentiments. Rachel Spaulding, a director in Brown’s Office of Advancement, picked herself up after wrangling some bushes, brushing soil from her hands and noting how she’s connected with colleagues, many of whom she had never met.
“It’s so easy to say, ‘What do you do at Brown?’” Spaulding said. “Next thing you know, they’re working in an office you need to work with, and you’ve made a connection.”
Five miles to the west, at Anthony Carnevale Elementary School in the city’s Hartford neighborhood, Alison Buckser donned a straw garden hat and sunglasses as she led a mix of school kids and Brown staff in an urban gardening project, loosening soil, planting flowers and placing mulch at the school entrance.
Buckser, a member of Brown’s Advancement staff and a University of Rhode Island Master Gardener, said the children had a head start on the project, having worked with the Providence School Garden Initiative to identify and prepare a space where they could grow a garden.
With the plants and flowers in the ground after today’s work, the elementary school kids will take charge of maintaining the garden and doing hands-on science through curriculum developed for the school’s teachers. But even the single day of planting was educational for everyone involved — kids and staff alike.
“You can ask anybody here, ‘How did it feel?’” Buckser said. “And they’ll say, ‘Oh, it feels great.’”
Back on the Brown campus, CIS administrator Paulo Baptista has become a familiar face leading a workshop titled “Brown Bag it for Crossroads.” Working in assembly-line fashion, volunteers made lunches for the nonprofit Crossroads Rhode Island, which delivered the lunches to homeless people across the Ocean State.
“It’s one way of encouraging my co-workers to be generous,” Baptista said of his recurring role.
As a personal touch, Baptista suggests that volunteers write notes of encouragement to include in each bag, a gesture he picked up from someone else. Often, he writes: “Someone at Brown cares about you.”