By Dan DiPrinzio
James H. Calamia grew up in Norristown, Pa., Cabrini College’s partner city. By his own admission, the 2011 Cabrini graduate was not community-service oriented when he enrolled at the College in 2007.
Once immersed at the mission-driven College, though, Calamia used skills learned through his business administration major and worked with community partners to help revitalize Norristown’s arts community, highlighted with the planning and production of the first two Norristown Arts Hill Festivals in 2010 and 2011.
“My involvement with Norristown is important because a lot of the things I’ve done revolve around empowering people,” said Calamia. “It’s not about charity; it’s more about using my abilities to point someone in the right direction, to give people the tools they need to succeed in what they want to do.”
A graduate of Kennedy-Kenrick Catholic High School, Calamia chose Cabrini based on the College’s close-knit community and personal interaction he’d have with professors. Though he wasn’t sure of a major, he gravitated toward business administration with a concentration in economics after discussions with professors helped narrow down what he would be best suited for, and what he’d excel in.
In 2009, through a Cabrini Career Fair, he landed an internship at the office of then-U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.). In fall 2010, he interned at campaign headquarters for Pat Toomey’s successful Senate bid. Calamia credits these experiences with influencing both his decision to pursue a legal or political career, and his desire to make a difference in people’s lives.
“The internships showed me how senators use their resources and skills to bring community leaders together to affect change,” said Calamia, who would like to work at Toomey’s office in Washington, D.C. after graduation, although he is awaiting acceptance to Temple University’s Beasley School of Law.
Calamia took what he learned at Cabrini and applied it directly to affecting change in Norristown. In 2010, he presented research at the State Capitol in Harrisburg, meeting with federal and state representatives to discuss his work, “Revitalizing Norristown.” In 2011, he presented “Building Campus-Community Partnerships” at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Consortium for Higher Education Honors Conference.”
He co-wrote a paper, “Building Sustainable Campus-Community Partnerships: A Reciprocal-Relationship Model,” with Eric Malm, Ph.D., assistant professor of business administration and economics at Cabrini; Stephen Eberle, the College’s coordinator of community partnerships; and Gabriela Prete, business director for Norristown. The paper is under consideration for publication in the Michigan Journal of Service Learning.
While a student in Dr. Malm’s “Norristown Arts” course in 2010, Calamia and the class worked with the non-profit Norristown Arts Hill Council to develop a plan to launch the arts district—with the long-term goal of revitalizing downtown Norristown. The festivals have brought to Norristown film screenings, theater, musicals, ballet, ethnic dance, and performances by the Cabrini Dance Team.
Calamia served as a classroom coach for Dr. Malm’s class the following year as students helped prepare the second annual Arts Hill Festival. Calamia oversaw marketing, multimedia, fundraising, sponsorship, and logistical projects the students produced in bringing the 2011 festival to Norristown.
“It’s students like James that make community-based classes possible,” said Dr. Malm. “Having grown up in Norristown, he quickly took ownership of the work of the Arts Council. As a classroom coach, he both helped re-cast the course in a more engaging way for students, and acted as a role model illustrating how people work for their community because they want to, not because they have to.”
At Cabrini, Calamia has blossomed into a leader, acquired skills in business and economics, and worked for two U.S. senators. But when asked what he’s most proud of about his college career, Calamia doesn’t hesitate.
“The relationships that I’ve made with students, professors, community members, and co-workers have greatly helped my communication and interpersonal skills, and are a large part of my development. That development has been based on service, which Cabrini has fostered, and is leading me toward a future where I can utilize all of my skills.”
Calamia’s focus on community development continues in his career. He now works as Operations Manager for the Roxborough Development Corporation, using skills learned through his business administration major, his internships, and his real-world projects to promote the Roxborough community.