This I Believe, Lara Stone, UMassD Advancement Officer

“This I Believe” | Lara Stone, Advancement Officer, University Advancement & the UMass Dartmouth Foundation, 2017

I believe in community. I believe in being thick. And I was inspired by my good friend, laraDavid Brooks’ Op Ed in the New York Times, “How to Leave a Mark On People.” You will be delighted to learn that I am giving you complete permission to be thick! In fact, I encourage you to stay as far away from thin as possible.

When I was a child, I attended Incarnation Camp for 8 years as a camper, worked on staff for 2 years and eventually married my husband at camp on a beautiful Memorial Day weekend years later. Our three boys attended camp. The lessons I learned, the friendships that I made there and the fabric of community that weaves its way into every aspect of my life, I can usually tie back to camp. When young people of all socio-economic, racial and ethnic backgrounds cook their own meals on an open fire, take biking, hiking or canoe trips, live side-by-side in a tent for 6 weeks and forgo all electricity and telephone service—something transformational happens.

Recently one of our camp family members died, Firefighter Joseph Toscano. He died fighting a two-alarm blaze in Watertown on St. Patrick’s Day 2017. He was the father of 5 and one of the most thoughtful, engaging, community-minded people I know. He was a counselor at Incarnation Camp. Several weeks after his death, New York Times columnist, author, political commentator, Yale Professor, and my former camp counselor David Brooks wrote an Op Ed about Joe. In times of tragedy, don’t we all turn to the fabric that holds us together—our family, our church, our camp family, and our classmates? David Brooks went on to talk about the nature of this fabric in his column.

“Some organizations are thick, and some are thin. Some leave a mark on you, and some you pass through with scarcely a memory. I haven’t worked at Incarnation for 30 years, but it remains one of the four or five thick institutions in my life, and in so many other lives… Which raises two questions: What makes an institution thick? If you were setting out consciously to create a thick institution, what features would it include?”

I think that UMass Dartmouth aspires to be a thick institution:“A thick institution is not one that people use instrumentally, to get a degree or to earn a salary. A thick institution becomes part of a person’s identity and engages the whole person: head, hands, heart and soul.” You meet in capstone teams or in study groups. You serve side-by-side in service, in clinicals and in the lab together. You work hard, stay up late, get no sleep. You are strivers, hard working, juggling to make ends meet. You lift each other up.

According to David Brooks, “Such organizations… celebrate the heroes who pulled them from the brink.” Your faculty, tutors and peers have been your mentors. You lift one another up. They go to bat for you. Your friends, classmates and teammates and your colleagues make up the fabric of your UMass Dartmouth experience.

My hope is that if you are graduating or just arriving, you feel connected to the fabric that is UMass Dartmouth. Know that you are family, that we are thick, that you will be a part of this fabric long after you leave. There are ways for you to strengthen our fabric at UMass Dartmouth. Every little action taken by one person takes us closer to being the thick organization we aspire to be. Being a part of the UMass Dartmouth family offers each of us an opportunity to give back to others, to build on our legacy, to be part of a thick organization.

In a thick organization selfishness and selflessness marry. It fulfills our purpose to help others along the way. When we live by our beliefs, we attract those that believe similarly. We weave this fabric into our very being. Our every action, proves what we believe. Go out and be thick. Steer clear of thin.