Nicole Stefanowicz ’09
Family Friends, Service Trip Participant, and Core Team Leader
What involvement did/do you have with MOVE? What program did/do you volunteer with and/or lead? What years?
Family Friends (Founder), Extended Service (Hope House, Hartford, Dominican Republic, Kolkata), IMPACT Conference ’08 and ’09, Core Team 2006-2009, TREK (Pre-Orientation) 2005
What’s your MOVE story?
It’s hard to summarize everything that MOVE has given to me over the last fifteen years. From the friendships I’ve made to the guidance I received from Heidi and Jay (and Erin, and Anna, and Lara…) to meeting my husband, developing a foundation of social justice, and travelling all over the world—its impact on my life has been immeasurable.
Notably, it’s also how I reconnected with my biological father in the first week of college.
Although I am from Massachusetts, I have strong ties to Vermont and the Burlington area. My dad relocated to Vermont in the ‘90s after his divorce from my mother, and due to mental health and substance abuse challenges, he experienced chronic homelessness during my teenage years. While we had a very strong bond when I was a young child, our communication had been spotty at best over the years leading up to my college search.
While I expected that we would connect when I moved to Vermont, what I didn’t expect was that the connection would be made while attending MOVE’s pre-orientation week (then called TREK.) Over the course of the week, nine other students and I were introduced to some of the different experiences that MOVE has to offer: from Correctional Volleyball to serving dinner at St. John’s Hall, (housing for the formerly homeless.) At the time, I had no idea how “small world” Vermont really is.
As it turned out, my dad was one of the residents at St. John’s Hall, and we connected while our group was serving dinner there that night. A strange but happy and somewhat casual reunion witnessed by fifteen of my newest friends. I discovered that St. Mike’s has a long relationship with COTS and had been serving dinner at St. John’s Hall for many years at that point. It ended up being the perfect environment to rekindle a connection with my dad.
I continued going with the group to St. John’s Hall on a weekly basis. For the other participants it was service work, but for me, it was spending time with my dad in an environment that felt safe and supportive. The relationship was (and continues to be) rocky at points, but I will always be grateful for the leadership of Heidi and Jay, as well as my peers, as I navigated this relationship.
In what ways did/does MOVE impact you?
This experience showed me the importance of volunteerism and deepened my commitment to serving folks who are experiencing homelessness. From here, I jumped head-first into the extended service program, serving communities in Port Jefferson, Long Island, and Hartford, Connecticut, learning more about hunger and homelessness and the different service models. Later, I also had the opportunity to serve with MOVE in the Dominican Republic and Kolkata, India, developing a global perspective of social justice for which I will always be grateful.
During my Sophomore year, I created a connection with the COTS Family Shelters, now called Family Friends. While my time at St. John’s Hall had given me a connection with my dad, what I wanted most was to work with children who were experiencing homelessness. This turned into a multi-year endeavor where we provided childcare, extracurricular activities, and field trips to the kids and families at the COTS Family Shelters. It was a labor of love that turned into a year of service post-graduation for me.
I continued to work for COTS in their family shelter and later in their development office. When I was called to a different job opportunity, I maintained this connection by serving on the COTS Speaker’s Bureau and as a Challenge Walker for their Annual COTS Walk. Each year, our family raises thousands of dollars to support the work that COTS does for the most vulnerable folks in our community.
If you are an alumni, what influence does MOVE continue to have on your life today?
As an alumni, my MOVE connections run deep. I met my husband in the MOVE office in 2005, we attended a social justice conference together in 2008, and we began dating that summer when he was interning in the MOVE. We remain close with many of our MOVE friends, including our friend Jenny, who was with me on that first week of TREK. The hours (and hours!) of time I spent with Heidi and Jason in the MOVE office helped me to discover and refine the person I am and truly continues to influence me daily. I am a better parent, partner, and person for the time spent with MOVE.
I am fortunate to have remained in Vermont beyond my time as a student at Saint Michael’s. With COVID, I couldn’t tell you the last time I stepped foot in the MOVE office, but regardless, it’s a place that always feels like home to me.