As a youngster Bernice Parenti helped with neighborhood fundraisers in Bristol, R.I., in response to the polio scare of the 1950s. She and her friends were part of the civic conscience characteristic of the times. As she grew older, she stayed actively involved in her community. When her husband lost his job and she was diagnosed with cancer in the same week, her first priority was her health and next, new career horizons and warmer climes. In 2002, Parenti was hired by JWU as a liaison to its newest home city.
Today, as director of community outreach, she builds a network to Charlotte’s organizations, serves on a number of nonprofit boards and is the clearinghouse for all requests for assistance from the campus, whether building playgrounds or staging cook-offs. Melding outreach to education, she coordinates students’ community leadership studies for between 250 and 400 students per term, with 40 organizations. Her projects target university priorities: hunger, homelessness and education. “When you know that you’ve connected a student in that way that they say, ‘Wow! I get it!’ everybody learns, everybody grows, everybody benefits,” Parenti says with excitement.
As a breast cancer survivor, she lends support to others and has been a volunteer trainer and coordinator for five years for the American Cancer Society’s Reach-To-Recovery Program. A mother and a grandmother, she feels humbled by what she’s learned reaching out to others. “I truly have grown by having my eyes opened to what goes on in this community. I suspect it’s like that in a lot of big cities — there’s a lot of giving that goes on, often very quietly.”