Before becoming president of the Community Service Initiative on campus, Gabriella Cullenberg ’23 began her Salem State journey like hundreds of other Vikings – at the First Year Day of Service.
Organized by the Salem State First Year Experience Office and the Center for Civic Engagement, the First Year Day of Service is the university’s annual day of volunteerism for 175 first-year and 25 new transfer students. These new Vikings participate in one of several service projects with organizations in the North Shore community.
Gabriella said she enjoyed her time volunteering in her high school years at Bridgewater-Raynham Regional High School and wanted to continue to give back at Salem State.
“It was really nice,” Gabriella said of her First Year Day of Service experience back in August of 2018 when she helped with end-of-summer clean-up at a summer camp in Salem. She, along with her group of about a dozen student volunteers, helped rake leaves, clean tarps, and organize camp materials.
“My favorite part was volunteering and getting to help other people,” Gabriella added.
Her interest in volunteering led her to the Community Service Initiative, a student organization on campus that hosts events to serve the Salem State community and surrounding area. Gabriella served as vice president of the group during her junior year, and was elected president for the upcoming 2022-2023 academic year.
She will lead the group of 20 students, who meet regularly for what Gabriella calls “mini-service” events on and off campus. Past mini-service events have included food drives, making dog toys for the animal shelter, and creating self-care bags to promote mental health awareness. This fall, the group is planning a September toy drive for National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month.
The Community Service Initiative also plans larger-scale events, such as weeklong, out-of-state trips with Habitat for Humanity.
Gabriella went on her first Habitat for Humanity trip with Salem State in the spring of 2019, when she traveled to St. Joseph, Missouri. Together with students from all over the country, she helped build a house while making new friends and connections with staff at Habitat for Humanity. The organization’s Missouri chapter helped fund much of her trip.
“It was really fun…I made a lot of new friends,” she said. “We did all our volunteer work, but we also got to go and see new things.”
As a psychology major with a minor in criminal justice, Gabriella especially enjoyed the excursion to see an old psychiatric hospital in St. Joseph that was transformed into the Glore Psychiatric Museum.
Gabriella did not attend the latest Habitat trip to New Mexico in 2022 but helped her fellow students plan the trip. The group is in the process of planning another service trip with Habitat for Humanity in 2023 with the help of their advisor Bruce Perry, who Gabriella believes to be the best student group advisor on campus.
She credits Bruce, who serves as assistant dean of academic initiatives and accreditations at Salem State, as the first person to introduce her to the Community Service Initiative during her experience at the First Year Day of Service.
“He talked about the Habitat trip every year, and I thought that was something I really wanted to get involved in,” Gabriella said. “After the First Year Day of Service, I started going to the [Community Service Initiative] meetings and sort of joined the club.”
In addition to her volunteering with the Community Service Initiative, Gabriella works as an admissions ambassador on campus. As she prepares to graduate next spring, Gabriella is considering careers in mental health counseling or mental health advocacy: “I want to continue spreading awareness about mental health and serving other communities that aren't served as well within those fields.”
She plans to continue her work in volunteering and service, perhaps even working with Habitat for Humanity’s local chapter in Massachusetts after she graduates. Wherever she goes, Gabriella will always have a home at Salem State and the Community Service Initiative!