Groton School Director of Community Engagement Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge says helping students  volunteer at the Our Father’s House shelter in
Groton School Director of Community Engagement Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge says helping students volunteer at the Our Father's House shelter in Fitchburg can help change lives. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE

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FITCHBURG -- When Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge visits Our Father's House to help serve the Sunday meal, he doesn't go alone.

Freeman-Coppadge, the director of community engagement at Groton School, has organized and often led Sunday night trips to Our Father's House shelter on Lunenburg Street in Fitchburg.

"Sometimes our kids will take (food) over, serve it and then come home," he said. "Sometimes we'll eat there with them. On occasion we have made the meal in their kitchen."

Between five and 10 students visit the homeless shelter every week while school is in session to serve the food or chat with residents. Freeman-Coppadge said the school has also participated in service projects at the center, like spring cleaning and landscaping.

Groton-School Director of Community Engagement Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge talks about the importance of having students volunteer in the community. "It
Groton-School Director of Community Engagement Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge talks about the importance of having students volunteer in the community. "It gives them a broader understanding of the human experience," he said. SENTINEL & ENTERPRISE / JOHN LOVE

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Coordinating with Our Father's House is just one of the many roles Freeman-Coppadge, a 34-year-old Pennsylvania native, is engaged in at the prestigious boarding school that serves about 370 eighth- through 12th-graders. He is also an English teacher and the head of the eighth-grade boys' dormitory.

The trips to Our Father's House are a way "to expose (students) to as many different ways of living as possible," he said.

"For many of them to come from a school like this where a lot is really done for us -- we have our dining hall, we have our building and grounds staff. In many ways they're living kind of a wonderful little idyllic existence here," he said.


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"To come from that and to sit down and share a meal with someone whose life story is very different from theirs, I think is really humanizing for (the students.) It gives them a broader understanding of the human experience."

This echoes back in classes, allowing students to think about debates in terms of people, Freeman-Coppadge said.

Paula Jarvenpaa, Our Father's House volunteer coordinator, said the Groton School is one of many schools to send groups to the shelter. Students from North Middlesex Regional School District, Fitchburg State University and Mount Wachusett Community College also volunteer at the shelter.

"All the volunteers form friendships with the guest that are staying," she said.

Typically meals feed the 28 to 30 people staying in the shelter, freeing up Our Father's House staff to perform duties elsewhere.

Our Father's House is also planning its annual spring concert, a fundraising event for Saturday, April 14. Starting 8 p.m., a Beatles tribute band, "1964: The Tribute," will play at Fitchburg State University's Weston Auditorium.

For tickets, call 978-345-2256 ext. 300.

Follow Elizabeth Dobbins on Twitter @DobbinsSentinel.