Presence over productivity. This is the life lesson Sean Clores ’10 is learning as a volunteer at Passionist Volunteers International, an organization that invites recent college graduates to commit one or two years of international community service to the rural poor and suffering. Going on his second year in Black River, Jamaica, Clores now has clarity on what means most to him – and to others.
“When I first arrived here,” says Clores, “I would think back on my week and ask myself what did I really accomplish. I visited some people in a hospital, played some basketball with a few kids … it didn’t feel like much.” Slowly and definitively, he came to realize that productivity as he defined it wasn’t what mattered here in Jamaica. What matters here are relationships – being “present” to, for, and with others.
“The more you’re able to appreciate and invest in someone else, the more important they feel, the more dignity they have, and the more they’re able to get accomplished,” says Clores. “They say that with any kind of community service, you always receive more than you give and learn more than you teach – but until I experienced this myself I didn’t fully understand.”
Today Clores spends his weeks running the basketball program at Black River High School, where 2,000 students from lower or middle class families come to learn. He’s also working with staff to solicit book donations from overseas to increase the resources of the school’s library, and acts as a teacher’s aide in the mornings at a pre-school. On Sundays, after mass, he continues to visit local patients in the hospital.
Whether being present for a young child, a teen, or the elderly, Clores has found that his passion and investment in others circles right back. “If I am open and respectful of how others operate in their culture, they in turn are the same toward me,” says this rising global citizen.
Clores first visited Kingston, Jamaica on a mission trip during his senior year at Fairfield, in January 2010. “It seemed like one of those cool opportunities to take on before I graduated,” he says. But the 10 days zoomed by, as they hopped from one setting to the next, and when Clores found himself back in the states, he longed for more.
“When you get into your senior year, you’re trying to compete for a job, and it’s easy to get all wrapped up in that,” says Clores. In route to Jamaica, his mind was wandering in many different directions, wondering what his next coaching opportunity or radio gig might be. “But when I was spending time with the kids and listening to their teachers and principle talk about what they were trying to do, it almost seemed like all those distractions in my head didn’t matter anymore. I realized I had something I wanted to learn about first before going down that road.”
As head basketball coach at Black River High, Clores knows his job is to take care of the “whole” athlete, applying what he learned coaching teens at Fairfield Prep. In Jamaica, he finds it particularly important to bring “care and confidence” to others, as many residents suffer from low self-esteem. Basketball is also new to the school, so “the guys are very raw,” says Clores. “But on the upside they’re wonderful athletes and pick things up quickly. There’s a lot of passion and excitement to be on the team, because it’s not something that’s taken for granted.”
Clores is passing forward other values he learned at Fairfield University, such as the importance of being successful off the court as much as on, and of letting them know that he cares about them as individuals. Towards that end, he and his assistant coaches are implementing a new prerequisite that their students must be passing all their classes in order to play, and building a mentoring program where they can learn the study habits that will help them get there.
In turn, the locals have taught Clores how to slow down, pay attention to building relationships, and bring spirituality into everyday situations. Clores has noticed that Jamaica is a highly spiritual island, where residents pray every time they get on or off a bus. “They say a littler prayer and really bring it in like that,” he says. “That’s something special and unique here, and something I’ve come to embrace myself.”
A Communication major and English minor at Fairfield, Clores was appreciative of how much flexibility there was on campus to pursue his personal interests. He became a sports broadcaster for WVOF all four years, a volunteer assistant coach at Fairfield Prep for three years, and was actively involved with Colleges Against Cancer and the Multicultural Diversity Office.
“Sean exemplifies the kind of student Fairfield attracts, nurtures, and educates to go beyond what is expected of them in society,” says Daniel Martorella, a faculty member of sociology and anthropology. “It comes as no surprise that not only did Sean volunteer for Passionist International in Jamaica, but he extended his service there another year. It is wonderful to see our Fairfield students grow and give back to society the love, hope, and compassion so desperately needed for others less fortunate. Sean is truly an ambassador for Fairfield University.”
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