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Visit to Transitional Center Changes Students

Basketball Players Serve Meals, Conversation

Greg DeSantis at Lowell Transitional Living Center. Bob Ellis photo
Graduate student Greg DeSantis serves a guest dinner at the Lowell Transitional Living Center on Jan. 18.

By Chris O'Donnell

Each year, when the UMass Lowell men's basketball team visits the Lowell Transitional Center, it is a reminder for Nomso Emetarom to call home.

“After every year I've gone there, I call my mom and tell her how thankful I am,” Emetarom said.

Emetarom, a Framingham, Mass., native, and his teammates spent a couple hours at the Lowell Transitional Living Center on Jan. 18, setting tables, serving meals, interacting with the guests and busing tables.

The visit marked the fifth year the team has volunteered at the center, and perhaps no one was more grateful than Janet Barsorian, the Center's Kitchen Manager and Coordinator of Donations and fundraising for 13 years.

“It really lifts their spirits,” Barsorian said. “We are really inundated this time of year.”

The amount of guests at the Transitional Center varies, and one of the determining factors as to how many guests may show is the weather. On the night of the team's visit, temperatures hovered around 20 degrees, making for a busy night; about 135 people by Barsorian's estimation.

On such nights, there are rules. One drink or serving per guest (often there is not enough for seconds). Emetarom is a sociable young man who doesn't mind striking up a conversation.

“They really appreciate what we're doing for them,” he said. “Some of them used to play basketball. We talked about the NBA. A couple of them asked us about getting tickets for games.”

But, he said, you learn quickly which of the guests are up for talking.

“You can tell they have it rough. I'll be serving food and I'll ask a simple question. Depending on the answer you can tell who is up for conversation.”

“We have a lot of people who have mental health disabilities,” Barsorian added. “There are a lot of people who have nowhere to go.”

A junior majoring in criminal justice (he has a 3.28 grade point average), Emetarom looks forward to the visit each year. To say he was moved on his first visit two years ago is a giant understatement.

“Honestly, every year I get the same feeling. I feel good about what we do there.”

Barsorian says the feeling is mutual.

“It's a nice treat for (the guests) to have someone different serve them. It's like going to a restaurant they can't afford.”