Summer Spotlight: Marakovits & van den Heuvel

Sandra van den Heuvel and Kelsey Marakovits

By Nate Bertrand
Special at

Working a summer internship is a key tool for a college student in trying to figure out what they want to do when they “grow up.” This is the same question almost every college student has been asked since the time they were five years old. The answer to this question, for most people, is ever-changing throughout their childhood and during their college years as well. Holy Cross senior student-athletes Kelsey Marakovits (Rocky Hill, Conn.), captain of the women’s rowing team, and Sandra van den Heuvel (Nashua, N.H.), captain of the women’s cross country and track and field teams, have spent their summer working at the Dismas Family Farm in Oakham, Mass. The Dismas Family Farm is a 35-acre residential farm that creates a supportive community environment consisting of students, former prisoners and other volunteers all of which coexist to assist the former prisoners in readjusting to society. The farm is self-supporting and produces crops, animals and finished wood products as well as candles and popcorn in the winter. Working at the farm this summer has weighed heavily on both Marakovits’ and van den Heuvel’s thoughts for the future.

Marakovits and van den Heuvel recently talked with to discuss their experiences on the farm this summer. What made you want to work at the Dismas Family Farm?

Kelsey Marakovits: After various courses and career shadowing experiences, I am still trying to figure out what I want to do when I “grow up.”  I have spent time working with children and thought I would enjoy this opportunity to work with and help adults. I am also interested in substance abuse and its effects on a person’s life. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to combine my academic and possible career interests while learning more about something I have absolutely no background in – farming. Are you glad you decided to return to Dismas Family Farm for a second straight summer?

Sandra van den Heuvel: I was hesitant in returning to Dismas farm because my first summer there was such a success. I was afraid to come back because I knew there was no way this summer was going to be able to compare to last summer, in a lot of ways, I was wrong. Since it is not only a transitional housing program but also one with the mission of transforming its residents into productive members of society, I found that many of the residents were new—even the ones I had met before! The changes between this summer and last summer are drastic; they include new responsibilities and challenges I couldn’t pay to have anywhere else. What is a typical day like for you farming with the people who reside at the farm?

Marakovits: Every day, I arrive at the farm at 8:30 a.m. for an in-house AA meeting run by the residents. We read from various recovery books and reflect on the ideas or quotes for the day. From 9-3, I work directly with the residents and other interns, planting, harvesting crops, taking care of the animals and maintaining the farm. Often times, I stay for dinner and attend the evening AA meetings with the residents.

van den Heuvel: Since I am one of the people who reside at the farm, for the most part, my day is almost identical to theirs. At 8:30 a.m., everybody gathers for a morning meeting. At 9:00 a.m., everybody is out working in the fields. We stop at noon for lunch, and continue at 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. to complete the residents’ vocational hours. At 6:00 p.m., we dine with local church groups who bring us our dinners throughout the week. Around 7:30 p.m., we attend an AA meeting. Usually by 10:30 p.m., everybody is in bed. Outside of these regular daily items, everybody (myself included) is responsible for a house and barn chore which must be completed outside our 9-3 workday. For me, that means cleaning the porch and taking care of our turkeys. I also keep an eye on everybody else’s chores, do my best to prevent and resolve any conflicts, serve as a mentor, schedule appointments for the residents…and other little things: grocery shop, drive, try to keep the house organized. Other than that, my typical day involves training for XC and trying to stay in touch with my teammates. What is the most valuable thing that you have taken away from sitting in on the residents' AA meetings and group therapy sessions?

Marakovits: I have learned a lot from attending the group therapy and AA meetings. I have witnessed how important it is for these men to have a safe and supportive environment to talk about their recovery and sort through their thoughts. One thing the men always mention is “staying out of their own heads.” They reflect on how easy it is to be pessimistic when they hit a bump in the road and are constantly reminding themselves and each other that this physical and mental struggle can only be won by overcoming their own negative thoughts. Many of the AA ideas, this one in particular, directly relate to my own life and have allowed me to reflect on the people, events and choices that influence me regularly. What is your favorite part about working at the farm?

van den Heuvel: There is too much to love about the farm to pick a favorite component. Some days, I simply can’t get over how gorgeous our property is. Other days, it’s the work: bailing hay isn’t easy, but it’s hard not to feel accomplished when the day is over. The most consistent benefit of working on the farm—regardless of weather and work, is the relationships. The friends I have made here are invaluable. That goes for my co-workers, my bosses, our Dismas’ partners and the residents. What is like working with other Holy Cross students at the farm?

van den Heuvel: The dynamic between the three Holy Cross students on the farm is phenomenal. It has been such a pleasure being able to work with Pat (Brekka) and Kelsey because I feel in a lot of ways our strengths balance each other’s out. I admire how quickly both Pat and Kelsey were able to adapt to and understand their roles here on the farm, and how quickly they gained the friendship and respect of the residents. Last summer, I was the only student worker on the farm which left me with nobody my age to confide in or seek support from. This year, that has totally changed. On days I was overwhelmed by my responsibilities of being a 24/7 Dismas resident, their friendship was invaluable. What else have you been up to this summer? And how have you been able to time manage it all?

Marakovits: When not on the farm, most of my time is spent working out, lifting or visiting friends and family. Often times, I will run or ride my bike around the farm with some of the residents and Sandra. That has been extremely helpful in keeping me in shape. On the weekends, I am able to go home or visit nearby friends.

van den Heuvel: This summer was easily the fastest of my life…it certainly didn’t help that I stayed very busy. Looking back on the past two months, I see a heavy dose of farm work and quick instances of weekend getaways to my home in New Hampshire or New York. Outside of those trips, over the course of the summer, I’ve logged over 350 miles of running. That takes up some time, mostly before 7:00 a.m. I manage the time by wearing a watch. Has this summer helped to give you a better idea of what you want to do after graduation?

Marakovits: I am still unsure about what I want to do after graduation but working at the Dismas Farm has definitely increased my interest in exploring work with substance abusers, convicted felons and the connection between the two. It has exposed me to the struggles faced regularly by people suffering from addiction, poverty and a criminal background. This experience will be helpful in my future work, regardless of what psychology or social work field I decide to go in to.

van den Heuvel: This summer in combination with last summer has helped me point my interest in psychology to a more focused area of social work. While this plan is subject to change, my current goal is to graduate from Holy Cross, gain some work experience in the social work field and then study for an MSW and become an independently licensed social worker. Is there anything that you have not done at Holy Cross during your first three years, in which you wish to accomplish during your senior year?

Marakovits: Over the past three years, I have kept myself busy with academics, rowing and work. This year I look forward to joining more volunteer opportunities and clubs that really interest me. I plan to volunteer at the Worcester County Jail and hope to spend more time enjoying my friends and experiences at Holy Cross.

van den Heuvel: I have four major goals for my upcoming year:
-I would like to hold an internship with the South Middlesex Opportunity Council which helps homeless people find housing.
-I would like to graduate with a secure job.
-I would like the cross country team to break into the top five at the Patriot League Championship.
-I would like to better maintain my relationships with friends/family (Dismas included).