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Thea Aschkenase Honored at Commonwealth Corps Finale at Fenway Park

July 15, 2009
By: Worcester State University News

On June 26, a contingent of WSC’s Commonwealth Corps attended the grand finale hosted by Governor Deval Patrick at Fenway Park.  This special event included not only a celebration of Commonwealth Corps throughout the state, but also tours of Fenway Park and opportunities to share the successes of the first ever state-wide Corps.

WSC’s own Thea Aschkenase, elder student, Auschwitz survivor and Corps member in the Ending Hunger Together Program was the only Corps member to be singled out and recognized for her dedication and commitment to service.  Because Governor Deval Patrick was attending the funeral of a Massachusetts Iraq soldier, David Roach, Co-Chair of the Board presented the award to a very surprised Thea.

Despite all the budget cutbacks, Commonwealth Corps will be funded for the next year and an intergenerational team of WSC students will continue the work of helping to get food on people’s tables.

Aschkenase is a stalwart volunteer member of Commonwealth Corps “Ending Hunger Together” program at Worcester State College. Thea is an Auschwitz survivor and learned firsthand, in German concentration camps, the devastating effects of hunger. One of Thea’s passions is ending hunger and she has been at the forefront of all the Intergenerational Urban Institute hunger initiatives.

When she came to the WSC campus as an elder student, in addition to taking courses, she volunteered in community service programs sponsored by the Intergenerational Urban Institute, became a core member of the IUI team and participated in many of their programs including the Teen Parent mentoring program. In 2007, after ten years as a student, she received her Bachelor’s Degree in Urban Studies. The theme of her senior thesis was Universal Breakfast.  She shared her story as a survivor with the students of the Youth Policy Council at South High and encouraged them to work for universal breakfast for all high school students. With the strong support of Maureen Binienda, now the Principal of South High, and the work of the Youth Policy Council, South High became the first high school in the Commonwealth to provide universal breakfast for their students.

South High students were so inspired by Thea and her story that when they saw food being thrown away and wasted at lunch time they asked permission to create space in the cafeteria where students could leave food to be shared after school. Today when you visit the South High cafeteria you will see signs on tables located around the room which say “Thea’s Sharing Table.”  Many students at South High have more to eat because of Thea.

When the Commonwealth Corps team was formed on campus to “End Hunger Together,” Thea was first in line to give of her time and energy.  She is part of the “SNAP Outreach Team” and together with Corps members she takes part in food stamp outreach to elders.  Thea remembers her early years in the United States as an immigrant and says: “I found Worcester a very friendly and welcoming city, and it was a proud day when after five years we were granted our citizenship. But I have not forgotten how hard life can be, I am trying to do my share to make life a little easier for other people.”  Thea was offered a stipend when the Commonwealth Corps began in the fall. She was offered one again in the spring. Her answer is always the same, “No, no I cannot take money, after all, this country has been so good to me.  It is my turn to give back.” At age 85, Thea is the oldest member of Commonwealth Corps, this gentle loving woman is a staunch warrior in the battle against hunger, an inspiration to us all and a blessing in our midst.

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