Tag Archives: Community Partners

DREAM Mentors Support Middlebury Youth

DREAM college student mentors support Middlebury youth living in two low-income neighborhoods through guidance and friendship, creating a lasting impact.

DREAM (Directing through Recreation, Education, Adventure, and Mentoring) is a national non-profit organization based in Vermont that aims to “close the opportunity gap for children in low-income housing” through mentoring and steady involvement opportunities. DREAM supports and partners with the DREAM Middlebury College student organization that pairs college students with youth from affordable housing neighborhoods.

Middlebury College student mentors play with youth mentees at the
Virtue Athletic Field House and help get out the Friday wiggles!

DREAM offers a variety of programs that help enrich the lives of young children who otherwise would not have as much access to out-of-school learning opportunities compared to their higher-income counterparts. The work DREAM does with children is only partially based on college campuses– other programs are Camp DREAM–which is free for all eligible youth in DREAM–Teen and College Preparatory, and Summer Enrichment.

DREAM’s partnership with Middlebury College seeks to address the opportunity gap here in Addison County by partnering student mentors with DREAM youth. Student mentors meet with the children each Friday afternoon to play games and build relationships. DREAM with Middlebury College engages in both group mentoring (primarily) and one-on-one mentoring.

Casey Thomas, the DREAM Community Organizer and AmeriCorps VISTA Member this year, is supporting student mentors and mentees within the DREAM program. He acts as a liaison between the National DREAM Office and the Middlebury Program and facilitates fun activities for the amazing Middlebury youth they work with.

“There are moments when you work with youth, especially those in need, when you make a deep personal connection that can change their life and yours. The kids we work with, like all kids, need positive role models in their lives and the mentors can be that positive force. Our program not only serves our youth, but also the mentors who grow and feel the monumental impact of helping others.”

Casey Thomas, Middlebury DREAM Community Organizer and AmeriCorp VISTA Member

This program seeks to create a positive relationship between youth and adults built in trust and support. Janice Zhang ‘20.5, Outgoing DREAM Co-Chair, attests to the positive impact that DREAM has left her as well as on the children she’s worked with:

“The best part of being a DREAM Co-Chair was being able to see my hard work pay off every Friday and seeing how much the kids enjoy our company. I have learned that, at the end of the day, DREAM is all about having fun and that you don’t have to take yourself too seriously. This truly is an incredible experience.”

Janice Zhang ‘20.5, Outgoing DREAM Co-Chair

DREAM believes that the “opportunity gap is a root cause of why almost half of low-income children become low-income adults.” Guidance and support from loving adults is vital in helping youth become more than what their situation and bigger systems of inequality can limit them to be.

Interested in becoming a DREAM mentor? Please contact Casey Thomas at cthomas@dreamprogram.org.

MiddView Trips Engage in Vermont Communities

As a culminating orientation week experience, Middlebury College sends its first year students off campus with various MiddView trips. These three day excursions allow students explore Vermont, wilderness, and/or community engagement. The Center for Community Engagement (CCE) advises the eight community engagement trips, supporting new students to learn more about pressing social issues in the Vermont community. This year, based on student interest, the CCE addressed six central themes across the trips: Access to Affordable Housing, Animal Advocacy and Rehabilitation, Bridging the Health Gap, Exploring Education in Rural Communities, Immigration and Vermont’s Diverse Communities, Working Together to Effect Change. Sixteen student leaders with experience in these areas led the trips, after two weeks of hard work in training and preparation.

One of the Animal Advocacy and Rehabilitation trips, led by Tyler DeStrong ’22 and Noelle Ruschil ’22, learned and served at Homeward Bound, Addison County’s Humane Society.

By the end of the weekend, students worked with forty six Vermont organizations. Each group partnered with Vermont community organizations that embodied the theme of their trip. The Access to Affordable Housing group worked with organizations like the Charter House Coalition and Addison County Habitat for Humanity, while the Immigration and Vermont’s Diverse Communities trip worked with Migrant Justice and the Open Door Clinic. Some other partnering organizations included Homeward Bound, North Branch Nature Center, Adison Central Teens, and Bixby Memorial Free Library.

Middlebury first year students had a chance to not only get to foster new connections with their peers, they also got to start engaging with new communities. Alex Dobin ’22, a Juntos Board member who supported an information panel with the Immigration and Vermont’s Diverse communities trip, shared, “It was awesome to meet first years who dedicated their first few days at Middlebury to thinking about immigration and social justice, and to engaging with the Addison County community.” In my experience as a student (Alondra Carmona, ’21), I value MiddView trips because as the academic year progresses and things get busy, it becomes harder to initiate engagement with the community outside of Middlebury College. As participants return to campus and classes get started, students take with them a fun and meaningful introductory experience that is shared among their new classmates.

Middlebury’s community partners, College, and CCE welcomes the class of 2023 and hopes to hear amazing stories from our future leaders!

Faculty Partner Profile: Shawna Shapiro


In the course of work done here at the CCE, students and staff members oftern partner with members of the greater Middlebury community and beyond. Below is an interview with one of one of our partners, Shawna Shapiro, associate professor of Writing & Rhetoric and the director of the college’s Writing and Rhetoric Program.

Which CCE student organizations/programs do you partner with in your work? What kind of work do you do together?

I’m the faculty sponsor for MiddROC, and have helped the group make connections to schools and other organizations in Chittenden County. I also talk through issues that come up in their work and advise on ways they can bring back to the campus in terms of knowledge and community-building. I’ve also done trainings with Juntos on English language pedagogy and other issues related to their work with migrant farmworkers. (I’ve also received AOE grants connected to my Intro to TESOL course- not sure if you want me to talk about that in this interview. Let me know, as that’s been where the community connections are a bit more involved). 

How have community connections impacted your teaching and research?

Community connections offer a number of benefits: First, they help students complicate their understanding of “community.” When students say “Vermont is all white,” I can say “Actually, it’s not—you might want to check out these organizations that serve minority populations.” It also helps students see that the issues we talk about in class (e.g., language prejudice, English language policies in schools, etc.) have real-world consequences not just “out there” (in other places) but right here. Having community connections as case studies also helps students understand the messiness of organizational/societal change: Sometimes complicate political dynamics within an organization, or differing narratives about goals and histories, can be a barrier to movement. In those cases, our goal has to be to understand what’s happening, even if we can’t do much about it.  For example, I’m currently working with teachers at Burlington High School to map out some curricular changes, but in our conversations, they’re starting to share more about all of the ways they’ve felt unheard and disrespected by school administration, which makes them leery to put a lot of effort into changes that once again might not be supported. It’s humbling for me to realize that my idealism comes from not having to deal with day-to-day struggles that teachers in this school are facing.

What is one important thing you have learned either about yourself or the world around you during the course of your community-connected work?

I’ve learned that impatience is one of my biggest weaknesses, and that I have to model for students the “long view,” helping them see that building relationships takes time, and there may not always be a tangible “outcome” that you can point to for years in the future. This is a good reminder for me, but it’s also great for students who see themselves as “activists” and are used to talking about change-making and problem-solving. I’ve also learned that in our desire to “help others,” we sometimes dehumanize those others, forgetting that they have agency, aspirations, and lived experiences that might actually teach us something.  So I think the b

How does collaboration contribute to your work? Do you have any advice for those who may seek to collaborate on a project?

Collaboration makes me aware of my privilege—not only as a straight, white, U.S.-born citizen, but also as a faculty member at Middlebury College. I didn’t realize until doing this sort of work that while Middlebury has a lot of prestige, many people in the community are skeptical of what scholars have to offer to real-world problems.  I see my community engagement work in some ways as “PR” for the college.  2 pieces of advice: 1) Spend a lot of time learning about the issues—this can take months or even years. When you find yourself thinking: “This isn’t that hard! Why can’t they just…[insert naïve solution here] assume that there’s something you are not understanding about the history and/or nature of the issue(s) at hand.  2) Ask genuine questions. Acknowledge the deep expertise that community partners have, and present yourself as learning from them, rather than “helping” them.

What is one of the fondest memories you have of collaborating with students in your work?

In 2016, we used funds from an AOE grant connected to my FYS “Language and Social Justice” to visit Nepali heritage classes at the Vermont Hindu Temple (I had consulted with the leaders to develop the program and curriculum and to get some startup funding).  When we got there, they had us all sit in a circle (Midd students, kids in the program, and teachers/helpers) and they taught us some letter in the alphabet. Then they asked me to remind students of why it is important for them to maintain a connection to their Nepali language and culture. At first I was taken aback, because I didn’t feel that it was my place to be making that argument, but one of the leaders said “You’re a professor. They’ll listen to you.” That was a moment where I realized that I could use my privilege to work WITH the teachers in reinforcing an important message to their young students.

My students also visited an Open House for the Nepali Program later in the semester, and they had some great conversations with students in the program about all sorts of things. And there was delicious food and fun music!


Know someone we should interview and/or spotlight? Email cceintern@middlebury.edu