Sorority Student Focuses on Giving Back

C’Aira Dillard ’23, a Biology major at JWU’s Providence Campus, is still weighing her options for after graduation. Originally wanting to follow her bachelor’s degree with medical school, she is now interested in JWU’s Physician Assistant program, taking every opportunity to visit the PA program whenever they offer a lecture or event so she can learn more about the career and life of a PA.

But no matter what she chooses to do after graduation, Dillard knows one place her heart is: service to others.

Giving Back

C'Aira Dillard posing for a photo while wearing the Greek letters of her sororityDillard is the vice president for JWU’s Greek chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc., which is one of the "Divine Nine" organizations, and she’s also a member of the Order of Omega, which is a Greek honor society. She has enjoyed participating in the sisterhood and found the experience valuable. “I learned a lot of skills, from networking to leadership to communication,” she says.

But she’s also the community service chair for the Fraternity and Sorority Life team that oversees of all of JWU’s fraternities and sororities, and she loves being able to enhance her community service footprint in a meaningful way. “It’s similar to what I do in my sorority, but I also get to look at opportunities on a broader scale. I can invite and involve more people, including those who aren’t in the Greek system,” she says.

Dillard helps spread the word about service opportunities digitally, such as through Instagram posts, and physically, such as printing and hanging flyers around campus, to involve more of her fellow Wildcats in a chance to give back to others.

Helping Others

One huge passion of Dillard’s is the concept of the community fridge (there are several in Providence that were created to combat food insecurity during COVID-19, including Refri_PVD outside of Urban Greens Co-Op at 93 Cranston Street and PVD Community Fridge outside of Project Weber/RENEW at 640 Broad Street).

After hearing about the opportunity from an older sorority sister who already graduated from JWU but continued to serve as a mentor to her younger sorority members, Dillard brought the idea of the community fridge to her Sigma Gamma Rho sorority and collaborated with New Urban Arts where the community fridge is housed. New Urban Arts hosts and pays for the electricity and upkeep to run the fridge, she explains, but they depend on members of the community to help keep it stocked for Rhode Islanders in need.

Ever since, Dillard and other members have visited the fridge weekly both to donate food and to sanitize the refrigerator itself. “It’s a great idea because anyone can walk up and take food out, first-come and first-served,” she says. “There’s no limit, and best of all there’s no shame.”

Canned goods are the most popular, she says, as they last longer, but the beauty of the fridge is that it allows for people in need to access perishable goods such as milk, bread, fresh fruit and eggs. “People appreciate the fridge,” Dillard says, recalling when she was stocking the fridge and had an opportunity to meet someone looking for food. She got to meet him, help him pick out what he wanted and help fill his bag for him.

one of the community refrigerators in Providence to feed those in need

One of the community fridges in Providence for feeding those in need

On occasion, the community refrigerators need servicing or a revamping to better serve the needs of the community. In those cases, collection of perishable goods are suspended, but donations of canned and other non-perishable goods continue to be welcome. 

In addition, Dillard is involved in other events, collaborating with groups in and around Providence. One mainstay is participating in Cozy Rhody Litter Clean-Ups to beautify areas of Providence that end up becoming dumping grounds for trash. Cozy Rhody formed during the pandemic in 2020 and has held scores of litter clean-up events since, which usually attract dozens of volunteers like Dillard. 

a group of volunteers at a Cozy Rhody litter cleanup in Providence in March 2022

A group of volunteers at a Cozy Rhody litter cleanup in Providence in March 2022 (from Cozy Rhody's Facebook page)

Dillard also helps the Salvation Army to feed the homeless on Sundays, and often has a sorority sister or other JWU classmate present to help her with shifts. A typical volunteer shift might include preparing and serving chicken, collard greens, macaroni and cheese and peach cobbler for people in need of a nutricious Sunday dinner. "I've been delighted to meet so many people and to help out our community in a small way!" she says of her soup kitchen experience.

The Wildcat Way

Dillard chose JWU after meeting a representative at a career fair when attending a half-day technical school for Health Science in Evansville, Ind. She learned she was eligible for a scholarship due to the program she was in, and she continued to find more opportunities to learn about JWU. “Whenever there was a conference or career fair, someone from JWU was there,” Dillard recalls, “And I got more information each time. That summer I took a tour, loved new science building, learned that I was eligible for a lot of great scholarships – and I went for it.”

Her favorite JWU experience has been connecting with her first-year Biology professor. Associate Professor Kristin Rosler helped Dillard find out about her first internship and helped her write a summary for her application, as well as providing a letter of recommendation for her. “That internship opened up a lot of opportunities in the field I wanted to go into, which is being a fertility specialist doing research involving genetics,” Dillard says. “It provided great networking.”

Balancing Books and Experience

C'Aira Dillard photographed smiling while at a volunteer siteDillard interned for two summers, doing different hands-on research projects that taught her more about the medical field and diseases. This past summer she attended a 10-week internship at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., where she was mentored by Dr. Rolanda Lister, M.D., a maternal and fetal medicine physician. Because it was her second year interning, Dillard was able to mentor first-year students, serving as a role model while working with the maternal field of medicine looking for certain genes by dissecting mice and running tests.

Dillard enjoyed exploring Nashville when not in the lab, trying out everything from country line dancing to go-kart racing, taking a break from her rigorous academics and her hands-on internship for some fun. “It’s hard work being a biology major,” Dillard shares. “You have to put in a lot of work, and you have to sometimes make sacrifices like skipping a party or event if you have to study. It’s a big decision, but it’s all worth it in the end.” 

READ MORE >>> The JWU Biology Advantage


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