Author Archives: Gabi Cuna

Moving Forward

7 people sit around a table on a the screened-in porch of the Center for Community Engagement. They are sitting so that they can view a large TV which shows a Zoom screen where other members have joined them for a meeting.
Privilege & Poverty interns gather in person and via Zoom on the Center for Community Engagement porch.

The last year and a half has been a time of innovation and creativity for our student-led Community Engagement Organizations and staff-led programs. Traditional models of engagement typically include in-person volunteerism, community building, and face to face interactions that were not possible during the last three semesters. In order to maintain long-lasting relationships with community partners and continue to engage with the Middlebury community when it was needed most, many student organizations shifted to virtual or socially-distanced outdoor programming. As we move forward in the 2021-2022 academic year, COVID-19 protocols have shifted to reflect a highly vaccinated population while still accounting for community spread of COVID-19 variants. With these policy changes, student organizations have continued to innovate and grow.

For some organizations, virtual & socially-distanced programming opened up a world of new possibilities and projects. Nutrition Outreach & Mentoring (NOM) traditionally hosted in-person taste-tests and cooking demonstrations with local elementary schools to educate youth about healthy eating and cooking habits. During COVID, they developed cooking classes via Zoom and provided schools with ingredients to send home with students so that they could cook along at home. NOM also created a community garden at Mary Hogan Elementary where Middlebury students could engage with each other in person, without interacting in-person with children who aren’t eligible for vaccinations yet. Another Community Engagement Organization, The Special Olympics Club, moved programming outside and enjoyed the lovely weather by hosting outdoor walks and basketball games with Special Olympics Vermont athletes. Many of the 1:1 and group mentorship programs like Community Friends and Sister to Sister moved their mentor/mentee meetings and activities to Zoom so they could continue to connect with youth while maintaining physical distance. Other organizations opted for outdoor, socially-distanced, & masked gatherings when possible. Page One Literacy Project, an organization focused on encouraging a love of reading and learning among elementary students, participated in the Drive-Thru Spooktacular event hosted by the Better Middlebury Partnership and provided books & craft kits for more than 600 families during the pandemic. 

Middlebury College Access Mentors (MiddCAM), shared that they were able to successfully transition to completely remote programming during the pandemic and provide weekly mentor/mentee meetings online, as well as drop-in sessions for local high school students via Zoom. Though MiddCAM is excited for their mentorship pairs to have the option to meet in person again and host fun (and delicious) mentor meet-up events, all mentor pairs are given the choice of how they’d like to meet and some mentor pairs are still meeting virtually to accommodate busy schedules. These changes allow programming to be more accessible to the communities students are working with.

For some students, COVID-19 illuminated new opportunities for community engagement. Middlebury Volunteer Tutors (Midd VT) was founded during COVID to address the lack of educational support opportunities for youth in Addison County and to express “solidarity and gratitude for the deep care staff and faculty members have always given to students”. They created a network of Middlebury College students ready to support Middlebury employees’ K-12 children with tutoring services and were an important resource for the Middlebury College community during the pandemic. 

As the CCE returns to in-person programming with vaccinated populations, our Community Engagement Organizations are ready to take the lessons learned, grappling with what worked and what didn’t, from COVID-19 and build upon their traditional models to create new, exciting, and more accessible programming that encompasses the best of both worlds.

Finding Community and Connection: Yellow House

Eight individuals stand in front of a yellow van, smiling at the camera. They have yellow paint splattered on their blue Yellow House t shirts.
Mady and friends painting a van for the demo derby at field days sponsored by G Stone motors.

The following reflection has been thoughtfully composed by Madelyn Lander ‘23 who participated in a 2020 summer internship with the Yellow House Community in Middlebury. Madelyn is working to create the Yellow House Community Club, a community engagement organization focused on connecting Middlebury College students to the residents of Yellow House Community through planned collaborative activities and dialogues about disability inclusion. To find information about joining Yellow House Community Club, you can email Madelyn Lander at mlander@middlebury.edu. Updates about upcoming Yellow House Community Club meetings and events can be found in the Center for Community Engagement’s weekly newsletter. Like Mady, if you have an idea or inspiration for a community engagement project, you can reach out to the Center for Community Engagement for support through advising, grant funding, outreach, or community partner connections. 

When classes ended this past spring I didn’t have to travel very far after campus closed. I packed everything out of my dorm room and into my car before driving about half a mile from my dorm to a small apartment on Weybridge Street, right next to two college owned houses my friends had lived in the year before. My internship at the Yellow House Community (YHC) right here in Midd started in seven days and I had no idea what to expect.

The first few weeks flew by and I suddenly found myself in July with the first few weeks under my belt. Every day was different, and every week I discovered a new part of our community here in Midd that I had never known existed before. With Yellow House I traveled to farms in the area, volunteering with Yellow House residents to give back to the community which supports us, went on more hikes than I could count, and spent hours in the kitchen making lunches and helping to prep dinners with everyone. The essence of my work at YHC was to assist the daily support staff in the fulfilment of the program’s mission: to provide adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities with safe, residential family households, meaningful vocation, and the support to continue developing skills, interests, and relationships, but as I completed my midsummer reflection for the CCE I realized that it didn’t feel as serious as it sounded when I wrote it out. Essentially what I did everyday was wake up, spend seven hours with people whom I was forming strong and deep friendships with, explore the local area, and go home each night feeling fulfilled.

Through this experience this summer with YHC I learned that community connection is founded in the interdependence we all require to survive. None of us exist in isolation, and for the work we are doing to be meaningful it must honor this truth, whether that connection be within your workspace, or a broader network. Through this experience I not only learned about residential care for adults with disabilities, but also discovered what it feels like to work in a space where everyone wants to see everyone else succeed.

Thank you to everyone at CCE, as well as Yellow House, for this experience which has shaped me and will continue to affect the choices I make about my own future and the type of life I want to live. I hope that I can continue to live my life in connection with others, and inspire others to do the same, casting off the isolating idea of individuality that permeates many college campuses.