The Navigators food pantry is located on floor one of UCrossing. (Photo courtesy of Taylor Carito / Connector)
Navigating college is difficult enough without the added stress of not knowing where your next meal will come from or having no home to return to after a long day of classes. Unfortunately, this is a reality for many college-aged students, including students at UMass Lowell. The Navigators club on campus is a reminder that these students are not alone.
The Navigators club, comprising a passionate group of students and faculty, was formed in 2011 to support non-traditional students throughout their college years, including first generation college students, transfer students, commuter students, international students, student veterans, students identifying as LGBTQ and students who are either in the foster care system or who have aged out of the foster care system.
The Navigators club is now in a rebuilding year. Many of their most active members have graduated, and the Navigators are looking for new students to join their mission. Known for their very successful Navigators food pantry, which officially opened on the first floor of University Crossing in 2016, the Navigators serve as a social support group for students and are committed to giving back through community service in the Lowell area.
Dr. Stephanie Block, an assistant psychology professor and club faculty advisor, describes her experience with the Navigators as one of the most rewarding things she has done on campus. In the club’s infancy, Block was running the food pantry out of her office along with associate professor Doreen Arcus, and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies & Student Success Julie Nash. Nash was the associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences at the time. They pooled money to buy groceries, and student club members hand delivered grocery bags to people all over campus.
The Navigators have received tremendous support from the administration.
“Our club has an excellent track record of identifying student needs and the university [is] responding in bigger and better ways than we ever imagined to solve the problem,” Block says. The food pantry, which is now managed by the office of Annie Ciaraldi, associate dean of student affairs, is just one example of how far they have come.
Since then, the Navigators have been involved with all sorts of community service projects, including food and clothing drives, volunteering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America — even having a prom dress drive for Lowell High School.
Block fondly remembers one year on Thanksgiving when she and the Navigators went to a church in Lowell to serve meals to families in need.
“I think students want these opportunities to help and want to be a part of their community, and I think the leadership in the Navigators Club provides opportunities for students to do that,” Block said.
The Navigators are currently in the process of coordinating an after-school program with Lowell High School and the YMCA of Lowell, an idea brought forth by Aisha St. Phillippe, President of the Navigators. The goal is to help students succeed academically and to help them get to college.
“There’s no specific part that’s more rewarding than the next. It’s all rewarding. It makes you feel like you’re contributing something to the betterment of the school and society,” says Daniel Gallant, Vice President of the Navigators club. “It’s a good balance of fun and business.”