Tag Archives: Student Stories

Homelessness away from home

Middlebury Privilege & Poverty interns stay the summer in Vermont, engage with issues of poverty throughout Addison County.

This is the first in a series highlighting the work of our CCE Privilege & Poverty Interns, who are working in organizations, nationally and locally, that intentionally engage in issues of poverty. This week I sat down with Cynthia Ramos (intern) and Samantha Kachmar (co-director), of Charter House in order to enrich my own reflection about what it’s like working around poverty.

Photo courtesy of Charter House website

Cynthia Ramos is one of several Middlebury students who have been thrown into the daily operations of various social service organizations throughout Addison County this summer. From homelessness, to access to nutritional food, to advocating for women and migrant rights, Privilege and Poverty Interns are engaging with manifestations of poverty on a daily basis, and gather weekly to reflect and discuss their experiences. 

Cynthia is working at Charter House this summer, a non-profit, volunteer based organization that provides basic necessities like food and shelter. Though her job description might sound simple at first – cooking and cleaning, checking in residents – it has quickly become much more than what it seemed at the beginning.

“This job has been both easier and harder than I expected. I don’t have to know calculus to do it, but I have to have endless willingness to always do more, take on more. I have to be generous with not only my time, but my emotional availability…it’s exhausting, but not in a bad way. I feel more fulfilled now than I do during the school year,” says Cynthia.

Exhausting, yes. 

Worth it? Definitely.

Samantha Kachmar, Co-Director of the Charter House, agrees that the experiential learning that Privilege and Poverty Interns are receiving is unique in its own right – and difficult to digest at times. “It gives [students] a chance to really see it – in its reality. And it’s not always a pretty really. Sometimes learning and knowing something from material you’ve read or watched is much different than when you’re faced with that reality.”

“It’s exhausting, but not in a bad way. I feel more fulfilled now than I do during the school year.” – Cynthia Ramos

There’s a quote that hangs, pinterest style, next to the front door of my parent’s house that says “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

That’s about as corny as they come (right behind “Live, Laugh, Love”, “Family is FOREVER” and “You can find me at the beach”). Nevertheless, I have always felt unduly motivated by its message. This summer as a Privilege and Poverty Intern through the CCE myself, I am beginning to understand not only the value of living into that quote, but the value of the home that holds that sign up.

At times the John Graham Shelter in Vergennes, where I have been placed, seems not twelve but twelve thousand miles away from the housing, dining, and education that I often take for granted in the middle of a semester at Middlebury. But perhaps the most valuable lesson I’m beginning to learn is that these “different worlds” are not so different; all it takes is intentionality and effort to connect the two.

That connection, perhaps tragically for the more bookish of us (myself included), takes place beyond the essays we read, the money we donate or the “likes” we give on Facebook. Ultimately, however, that connection gives us the chance to discover universal aspects of human nature. 

“It allows people to see that though we come from different backgrounds and different walks of life, we have a lot in common. And everyone has the same desire for a stable life, and just different ways to go about it, different resources to attain it,” says Kachmar.

As my first full year of living in Middlebury draws to a close, I have become more and more conscious of the divisions between college and community, wealthy and poor here in Addison County. Whether you are from “up the hill” or “down the hill”, or whether you shop at the co-op or Hannafords, has tangible consequences on how you perceive Middlebury – and how you are perceived by others. Undoubtedly, there are some parallel realities of experience here, just like in many other places.

But (as I’m beginning to see, thanks to my work this summer) more often than not the effort it takes to bridge these divisions is smaller than we think. And I’m grateful to be given the chance to try.

College Access Passion Meets Practice: Brian Ketchabaw Reflects

This student leader spotlight features Brian Ketchabaw ’20, one of the future co-presidents for MiddCAM (Middlebury College Access Mentors).

MiddCAM is a one-on-one mentorship program that pairs Middlebury College student mentors with high school juniors who are primarily first-generation and/or low-income college applicants. Mentors help guide their mentees through the college application process by helping them coordinate standardized testing, come up with a college list, editing essays and personal statements, and providing information about the college experience. Recently, they also began supporting drop-in hours at both Middlebury Union High School (MUHS) and Mt. Abe High School.

I asked Brian some questions to learn about how his story and MiddCAM’s story intersect. Here are his reflections!

Let’s get a little background on you: Where are you from and what’s your major? What activities are you involved with on (and off) campus?

I am from Rye Brook, NY and I am a double major in Economics and Sociology with a minor in Education Studies. I am on the Men’s Varsity Ice Hockey team, co-president of MiddCAM, and I am going into my third year as student staff with ResLife.  

Why and when did you first join MiddCAM?

I joined MiddCAM my freshman year because the president at the time (Meg Poterba) was my FYC in Battell. I immediately felt a close connection with MiddCAM and joined the board my freshman spring.

What have you learned, both about yourself or the world around you, as a member of MiddCAM?

I have learned that all college students–especially students at a college like Middlebury–have a lot to give to their community. Whether it is volunteering at places like the Charter House, joining the Community Friends program, or joining MiddCAM, we can make a real impact in the community that has given us so much. I am a big believer in paying it forward. I was lucky enough to have a fantastic college advising team in high school which prepared me for the college process very well. Instead of just simply using those developed skills on myself, I love the fact that I can share my knowledge with MUHS students.

Congrats on your co-president leadership role in MiddCAM for next year! What are you looking forward to in that role?

I am looking forward to expanding MiddCAM. Since I joined my freshman year, we have more than doubled the mentors and mentees involved. I would like to continue that trend in order to increase our impact even further. Additionally, we are progressing “drop-in hours” so even MUHS students who are not involved in MiddCAM can come ask us questions about the college process.

We hear from Sociology Assistant Professor Matt Lawrence (the new Faculty Director of the Privilege and Poverty Academic Cluster) that you’re connecting this interest to your thesis. Tell us about how MiddCAM has shaped your academic interests and pursuits.

I have always been interested in education, but my experience with MiddCAM and at Middlebury College as a whole has accelerated my interest. The Education Studies department is fantastic here, and I have learned a great deal about the inequalities of education and how difficult it is for disadvantaged students to succeed in the current education system. Additionally, I have taken Sociology classes, such as Higher Education in Society, that helped me develop a thesis in my interests. Next fall, I will be writing my thesis about MiddCAM and the importance of pre-college access programs. Additionally, this will give me a great opportunity to hear real feedback from past MiddCAM mentees in order to figure out what parts of MiddCAM need to be developed further.  

Thanks, Brian, and we look forward to hearing more about MiddCAM as it continues to develop!


Brian playing at the rink for the Men’s Varsity Ice Hockey team.

Social Innovation and Crossing Cultural Barriers: Looking Back on my J-Term

Naina Horning ‘19 reflects about his CCE Cross-Cultural Community Service Grant-funded project at the African Leadership University in Mauritius.

I spent this J-Term in Mauritius. My experience centered around a class that included six Middlebury students and six students from the African Leadership University (ALU) in which we explored the various conditions under which social innovation can occur. While the class was beneficial in many ways, the true value of the experience came from meeting students who were socially-minded and motivated to improve their continent.

Getting to know people in both the classroom and in casual settings inspired me to consider how to best impact the world around me using the education that I have received thus far as my guide. I remember my partner, Yassmine from Morocco, was so good at crossing cultural barriers and interacting with people regardless of how different their backgrounds were from hers. All in all, she taught me the value of building genuine relationships while undertaking socially innovative ventures.

I was also influenced by the book review project we completed. We read and presented on Ashish Thakkar’s The Lion Awakes, which explores the growing economic opportunities in Africa. The book and our discussion on it opened my eyes to the African continent’s potential for development in my lifetime and inspired me to pursue job opportunities all over Africa. After I graduate, I am looking to take opportunities in education in Morocco, Uganda, Senegal, Swaziland, and Rwanda.


Learn more by checking out the ALU website: https://www.alueducation.com/


Naina (Middlebury) and Yassmine (ALU) present on why and how Morocco is prime for social innovation.

ALU Group: Middlebury and ALU students pose for a photo after a group lunch session.

Connecting coursework and the immigrant community, by Emma Ronai-Durning 19’

Emma Ronai-Durning 19’ reflects on her CCE Community Engagement Academic Outreach Endowment (AOE) grant funded employment with Rural Organizing Project.

          This summer, thanks to an Academic Outreach Endowment Grant, I was able to return home to Oregon and work with the Rural Organizing Project. My summer was full of new projects that challenged me and enabled me to grow as a human and as an organizer.

          I started the summer researching how to file public records requests. My goal was to create resources for folks across Oregon so that they could carry out their own research into what was going on in their communities in regards to police-ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) collaboration. As I discussed in my initial project proposal, this practice of providing the tools of research to those who might not otherwise have access to them aligned with my spring semester’s geography course, which explored radical geographic pedagogy quite extensively. More personally, it was exciting to see how the work of so many different fields can come together for a common cause.

          In my research I worked with activists, immigration lawyers, public defenders, immigrant justice organizers, and criminal justice advocates to figure out how to best file public records requests in the state of Oregon. It also confirmed in me the answer to a question I often receive from family members and family friends: “No, I do not want to be a lawyer.” While I deeply appreciate the assistance I received from those with legal training, I feel much more motivated to work with people at a community-wide scale instead of on a case-by-case basis. This summer provided me the opportunity to gain more clarity on my goals beyond college, while also becoming a more skilled and experienced organizer, so as to better fill that role in the future.

          You can read the resources I created on Public Records Requests here: a story of how records requests can be used as one tool in the toolbox, and a nitty-gritty how to.

The Springfield City Council ending their jail’s contract with ICE (thanks to multiple packed hearing rooms and months of local organizing).

 

Connecting Food and Community, by Nora Peachin ’21

Nora Peachin ‘21, employed through the Middlebury FoodWorks Fellowship this summer, reflects on her experience as the Local Food Access Intern at HOPE.

          This summer, I worked at HOPE (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects) as the Local Food Access Intern. HOPE assists low income individuals in Addison County in identifying and securing the necessary resources to meet their basic needs. HOPE’s food shelf is the largest in Addison County and serves over 600 people every month. Some of the food HOPE provides its clients is donated by local farms and stores.

          As the Local Food Access Intern, I helped my supervisor, Lily Bradburn, do on-farm pick-ups and gleans, plan and teach cooking workshops, prepare educational materials on local food, and organize other outreach efforts.

          During my ten weeks at HOPE, I came to better understand the realities of poverty in this county. I learned about the complexities and contradictions of nonprofit work — for example, the constant struggles of finding a balance between helping people and helping them help themselves, of avoiding telling people what they need in place of asking them, and of budgeting an organization’s limited budget fairly. All of this forced me to question some of my beliefs about poverty and poverty relief efforts, and to rethink how I approach nonprofit work.

          As a result of my work, I now feel more in tune with the local food system and local community. I was able to experience first-hand how the many organizations in and around Middlebury work together to address issues like poverty, homelessness, and hunger. I got to see and hear about the struggles many farmers are facing and their efforts to overcome them, as well as their great achievements and contributions to the community.

          My internship gave me the opportunity to break out of the Middlebury College bubble, and to connect with and learn from many individuals doing inspiring and important work in the county. I am so grateful for Lily and all the other wonderful staff at HOPE, for FoodWorks director Sophie Esser-Calvi, for Tiffany Sargent, James Davis, Rachel Roseman and Liz Cleveland at the CCE, and for all the other FoodWorks and Privilege & Poverty Interns for shaping my summer in Middlebury.

Nora Peachin ‘21 with some of her gleaned crops.

Rural Fun Delivery: My Local Privilege & Poverty Internship, by Claiborne Beary ’20

Claiborne Beary ‘20 reflects on her experiences as an Addison County Privilege & Poverty Intern with Mary Johnson Children’s Center as their Rural Fun Delivery Program Manager

Rural Fun Delivery (RFD), a Mary Johnson Children’s Center program, provides free, healthy lunches and engaging summer programming to kids 18 and under in mobile home parks in Starksboro, Vermont. Last summer, RFD expanded to offer afternoon activities on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays and provided each site with a Little Free Library full of books donated by local non-profits. Eight weeks into my internship, I am thrilled to be a part of RFD’s fifth summer delivering food and fun to the kiddos in Starksboro.

I began my internship with RFD by planning activities for the summer and preparing promotional materials with my co-lead intern Lily Barter ’19.5, in addition to helping out with the Mary Johnson Children’s Center’s after-school program at Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary School. Having served with Middlebury College’s Page One Literacy Project, I was especially excited to build on the existing Little Free Libraries and offer a new summer reading challenge to help foster a love of reading.

We began delivering lunches – prepared by the Mt. Abraham Union School District – three weeks into my internship and centered that week’s activities around community. That included playing blob tag and creating a collaborative poster! We have since traveled through space, explored nature, and transformed into superheroes. This is currently our fifth week and we are going under the sea by learning the classic game Captain’s Coming, creating slime, and perfecting our water balloon toss. I have greatly enjoyed building relationships with the kids so far – getting insider knowledge about all the animatronics in the video game Five Nights at Freddy’s, meeting a fantastic group of stuffed animals, and discussing our favorite superhero movies.

I look forward to drawing from my experience with RFD in my work with Middlebury’s Page One Literacy program and in future non-profit work with kids. I am so grateful to Anne Gleason, Director of School Age Programs at Mary Johnson, for this opportunity and to Lily for her creativity and enthusiasm.

“These interactions have really helped me understand the power of providing a safe space for kids to be kids.”

Service and learning with local community collaborators in Mitaka, by Chloe Fung ‘18.5

This blog post is a reflection from Chloe Fung about her participation in the Japan Summer Service-Learning Program (JSSL).

          In the beginning of July, we started the JSSL program with 14 students- four from Middlebury College, four from ICU (Japan), two from Assumption University (Thailand), two from Silliman University (The Phillipines), and two from Union Christian College (India). In the past two weeks, we’ve visited different communities in and near Mitaka city, including elderly homes, public elementary schools, and an urban blueberry farm. We’ve cut down bamboo plants for a Nagashi Soumen event, cleaned the classroom floors after school lunch with sixth graders, made takoyaki and tempura with host families… The program has given us an opportunity to glimpse into the lives of local people, which would not otherwise be easily accessible as a foreign tourist.

          Last week, our group visited two public elementary schools, Minamiura and Higashi. At the elementary schools, we participated in the activities prepared by the English teachers and also helped prepare for future activities. I was struck by the difference between the atmosphere and structure of the school compared to schools I had experienced or seen before. In my view, the students’ had learned a sense of responsibility already at an early age. This was most clear during lunch time, when all the students would prepare the classroom for lunch, bring food in from the kitchen, pass out food, and make sure everyone had a meal set on their desk. After lunch, students spread out to clean the classroom and also other rooms in the school. Even without explicit instruction or supervision, every student went to perform their assigned task. That diligence to me was incredible to see for sixth graders.

          Experiences like this have inspired me to reflect on my own schooling experiences, started discussions with others in the program about Japanese culture, group norms, and English education, and also taught me more about group dynamics and teamwork. Whether it is cleaning classrooms with children, working with native English, second-language English, and native Japanese speakers in translating materials or having cultural comparisons about the streetside farm stands that run on an honesty system, I have been learning a lot about myself, the different experiences of other program students, and about Japanese culture. I am looking forward to future fruitful discussions and to going to Tenryumura soon and experiencing a potential cultural shift as we move into a rural space with an aging population.

 

One of the Familia staff and a fellow program participant cutting down a bamboo plant for Nagashi Soumen.

 

Soumen (a kind of Japanese noodles) during the Nagashi Soumen event. In the picture, the bamboo is also pictured. In Nagashi Soumen, noodles are placed in the cut open bamboo plant while water is run through the ‘bamboo channel’ so that people stationed along the bamboo can try to catch some noodles with their chopsticks!

 

Making takoyaki with a local family who hosted us for the evening.

 

As we walked past this farm stand that ran on an honesty system (where there is no shopkeeper and customers place their payment into a box), we all had some laughs and interesting conversations about how this would not be feasible where we were from!