- by Mount Saint Mary College
About a dozen Mount Saint Mary College students in the First Year Experience (FYE) program enjoyed performing community service recently at the Mariandale Center in Ossining, N.Y.

As part of Mount Saint Mary College’s First Year Experience (FYE) program, dedicated students recently took part in a community service project at the Mariandale Center’s community garden in Ossining, N.Y. 

Participating were two sections of paired FYE classes. The first was overseen by Mike Daven, professor of Mathematics, and Charles Zola, Assistant to the President for Mission Integration, director of the Catholic and Dominican Institute, and associate professor of Philosophy. The second was overseen by Zola and Mark Lewin, adjunct instructor of History.

The Mariandale Center is a retreat for spiritual, personal, and communal growth that is sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of Hope. The center’s garden supplies fresh produce to local Hudson Valley food banks and pantries.

During their visit, the Mount students cleared out dead plant debris in the garden to prepare it for winter, while also learning about organic gardening and the types of plant species grown on the land. 

“The garden is a small, but important, means of addressing economic inequalities in the local community,” said Zola. “The students found time to reflect and contemplate the beauty of the community garden and grounds of Mariandale.”

The Mount group then went on a reflection tour with Sr. Bette Jaster, OP, Environmental Program Specialist, where they were taught about the nature that resides on the Mariandale property. Sr. Jaster focused on how human actions and care affect the environment, and how the sisters are working to preserve life and biodiversity on the grounds.

During the walk, students visited a small shrine remembering the importance of Saint Dominic De Guzman and Our Lady of the Rosary. They also walked along a labyrinth – an ancient spiritual tool designed to foster contemplation. 

Through the FYE program, students participate in community-based learning events related to diversity, inclusion, and equality. The program is rooted in the four Dominican Pillars of study, spirituality, service, and community, and is directed by Gina Evers of the Mount’s Writing Center.

“I think the activities of the day incorporated all four Dominican Pillars,” Zola explained. “I invited our first-year students to reflect on how the labyrinth symbolizes the journey of life and to consider how much their lives have changed since starting to study at the Mount.”

This wasn’t the first time that the Mount has aided the sisters at the Mariandale Center: Mount students also visited before the pandemic to reflect on the values of the college’s Dominican heritage and experience the personal benefits of community service. 

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