Newman Center provides a safe place for college students around Sacramento County
At the Newman Center across the street from Sac State, the sign “Yes, we are still open” is at the front door, although turnout has considerably decreased since Sac State moved to online instruction.
The center, one of three in the Sacramento Diocese, along with Chico and Davis, is focused on Catholic faith formation and development for college students, according to the director Weston Ruiz. It offers mass on Sundays and different activities during the week, such as movie and coffee nights.
“The biggest thing for the Newman Center is being available for students,” said Ruiz.
A Chico alumni, Ruiz is on his fourth year working as director at Newman Center but new at Sacramento’s center. He started there in June this year is trying to attract students with new activities, such as going out together for dinner on Thursday nights. He also plans to air a podcast, produced in a room that is being set up for it. Thursday night is study night, and students are hanging out in the entrance, after coming back from dinner.
Alyssa Shook, 21, a journalism major at Sac State, is there, seated on a couch with two other students. She lives in Roseville and just started coming back to the center since the pandemic.
“It’s like a nice sanctuary to have,” she said.
The building houses some small rooms and three big ones. The social area has several sets of sofas creating niches for socialization, a ping-pong and a pool table, and even a hammock. A large room that used to be a dining area is almost empty, with its tables folded and a wood plank covering the big window panel shattered during a recent break in. And there’s the room where Father Adam Tokashiki, a priest from St. Lawrence in North Highlands, gives the mass every Sunday. The chairs, arranged 6 feet apart is about five times more than the expected attendance, which lately is no more five students.
“The challenging thing is that students didn’t come back,” said Ruiz. “A lot of the regular student population are people that lives far from the center. Especially for Chico and Davis, a heavily residential community.”
With Sac State closed, the center is trying to reach students through social media, a method that is not as effective as before, when it had direct access to students on campus.
“It’s a lot slower,” said Weston. “Word of mouth is probably the best way to do it.” Still some students find their way there. Some come from far.
Andres Alvarado, 19, lives in Vacaville and attends Solano Community College. He has his headphones on while working on a digital sheet music in the computer, preparing himself for the music composition midterm that’s coming up. He’s a music and vocal performance major. This is his first week at the center.
“I love the environment here, it’s really nice,” he said.
Sacramento State student Steven Gomes, 24, would agree. The mathematics major, who lives in the area, is there most days, spending as much as five hours at the center. He started coming in January and since then became part of counseling and helping prepare different ministries for each night.
The Newman Center serves catholic students, most undergraduates between 18-22 years old, from different college campuses in Sacramento. The goal is to have them assimilate their own faith.
“Students come here for fellowship and group accompaniment,” said Ruiz. “It’s hard to live a good life, but easier when part of a community.”
According to him, the center’s purpose is to be available for students and be able to offer mass and a socially distance space for them to do homework.
“No one really knows where the safest places are. Our regulations are strenuous than everyone else’s,” said Ruiz, adding that the center opened up slower than other places and follows strict rules for safety, such as using masks even when outside, having regular temperature check and contact tracing.
“We’re just trying to connect students and give them a safe place to study” said Ruiz.