Sr. Seton Cunneen ’65 Fellows
Thirty years after her graduation, the campus ministry outreach of Sr. Seton Cunneen ’65 was recognized by the Maurice R. Robinson Fund with the establishment of the Sr. Seton Cunneen Fellowship Program at Trinity. In the 14 years since the inception of this prestigious internship program, many Trinity women have competed for a place as a Cunneen Fellow, and their experiences have inspired rising classes of students to become involved in community service.
The summer of 2008 was a busy one for the Cunneen Fellows. Sophomore Mariama Jollah is a native of Sierra Leone who came to Trinity with a deep understanding of social strife. With her stipend from the Robinson Fund, Jollah was able to spend her summer volunteering at Perry School Community Services Center, a comprehensive social service agency that works to eradicate poverty in one of Washington’s poorest areas. She wanted to be involved in a broad variety of social services, including healthcare, early child and youth development, job training, and mental health counseling. Her case study involved exploration of the social support needed for a mentally handicapped, poverty stricken child named Aisha. In talking about her experience, Mariama related, “As an individual I can only do so much. If I take part in something worth trying for, then I will see a greater change in my life. I believe I am called to Aisha’s situation to make a positive difference in her life by helping her to take more responsibility for her actions. This opportunity refreshed my confidence to someday become a helping professional, working in particular with children’s issues. I feel motivated and inspired to make a difference.”
Nzinga Lawrence ’09 saw the fellowship as an opportunity to spend ten weeks working with N Street Village, a women’s social services center that offers housing, shelter, medical treatment and food for its residents. Lawrence will graduate this May with a degree in psychology. At N Street Village, the resident population provided an opportunity to confirm her interest in social service work, and her commitment to people in need. At the conclusion of her fellowship, Lawrence wrote, “Working at N Street Village has exposed me to many different situations and issues that are prevalent in homeless women’s lives. In studying psychology and philosophy, I believe that the community must take care of the people who cannot take care of themselves. In school, one learns the vocabulary and how to notice behavior, but it is nothing like having to facilitate a whole day of activities and meals [for the homeless and people with mental illnesses.] I have gained more respect and love for my field. This experience has opened my eyes to possible career options that include substance abuse counseling and case management.”
Marie Smith, also a senior and the daughter of a Trinity alumna, has always had a strong interest in the Catholic social teaching of human rights. She chose to work with the Institute on Religion and Public Policy, an organization dedicated to fostering greater dialogue with international governments regarding their policies on religious freedom. During the course of her internship, Smith participated in dialogues with representatives of the government of Mozambique, and was able to observe the mechanics of successful negotiation and diplomacy as they related to religious freedom versus governmental control. In her reflection on the summer experience, Smith mused, “My religious tradition has influenced me to not be caught up in the little things that divide me from other believers in Christ. For example, sometimes we stereotype different denominations like the Catholics and Protestants or the Presbyterians and Pentecostals, but these divisions are man-made. Why, if we are supposed to be one body united in Christ, are there so many different denominations in America? …This experience helps me see that there are many divisions that come from men and not from God.”
In addition to the days spent working at these organizations, the interns met on a weekly basis with Campus Minister Barbara Humphrey McCrabb. They shared their experiences and talked about the challenges they faced, both to their views on life and their faith, as a result of their increased awareness of social ills. All agree that their experiences were extremely worthwhile, opening their eyes to much that had previously been more theory than reality.
The Cunneen Fellowship Program received additional financial support from Kelly Dunn ’64 and the Dunn Charitable Fund, enabling more students to participate in this community service internship experience. Trinity is indebted to them for their generous gift.