Author Archives: Gabi Cuna

Socially Just Community Engagement

The Center for Community Engagement is hosting 3 Winter Term Workshops focused on topics of social justice in working with communities. Each workshop will be offered in-person at 103 Hillcrest or virtually via Zoom. We encourage faculty, staff, community partners, and students to attend!

Workshop 1: Understanding Power & Privilege

January 14th, 2022 2:00-3:30 PM

This workshop will focus on understanding systems of oppression and the role that privilege and power play in community engagement.

Facilitators:
Dr. Hector Vila: Associate Professor of Writing & Rhetoric
Jacqueline Qiu: Privilege & Poverty Student Intern
Anna Freund: Local Foods Coordinator at Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE)

Workshop 2: Social Identities & Intersectionality

January 21st, 2022 2:00-3:30 PM

This workshop will encourage participants to reflect on their own social identities and understand how their intersecting identities affect the ways in which one builds meaningful relationships with communities.

Facilitators:
Crystal Jones: Assistant Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion
Rostyk Yarovyk: CCE General Intern & Student in Community-Connected Learning course
Priya Sudhakaran: Student in Community-Connected Learning course
Nicholas Leslie: Program Coordinator at Addison Central Teens

Workshop 3: Ethical, Strengths-Based Community Engagement

January 28th, 2022 2:00-3:30 PM

This workshop will focus on leveraging community assets and resources to strengthen communities, understanding how one’s values, strengths, ethics, and personal experiences allow them to act as social change agents, and encourage self-reflection as a key component of growth.

Facilitators:
Diane Munroe: Assistant Director for Community-Based Learning
Gabriella Chalker: Project Assistant for Community-Connected Learning course
Rae Donovan: Social-Emotional Learning Coordinator at Mount Abe. Unified School District
Pam Berenbaum: Director of Middlebury’s Global Health Program

If you have any questions about the workshops, please reach out to Shannon Lyford at slyford@middlebury.edu or Gabi Cuna at gcuna@middlebury.edu.

Addison Central Teens: A Reflection on a Life Changed

The following reflection was thoughtfully written by Meg Farley ‘24. Meg is a sophomore at Middlebury College studying Education Studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies. They are a part of the Privilege and Poverty (P&P) Academic Cluster and was a P&P Intern at Addison Central Teens in the summer of 2021.The Privilege & Poverty academic cluster pairs coursework focused on the causes and consequences of economic inequality with practical application through internships with local and national organizations. For more information on the Privilege and Poverty Academic Cluster, visit their website or contact Jason Duqette Hoffman at jduquettehoffman@middlebury.edu

I’ve spent the past six months trying to figure out what to share with you all. This is a long time, even for an expert word-marinator like me, but it’s true. I started my work at Addison Central Teens (ACT) in June of 2021, knowing, like all Privilege and Poverty interns, that I must be prepared to write a CCE blog post at *some point* during my time of community engagement. It is now six months later… I am still working at ACT and am finally crafting my well-marinated blog post.

For those of you unfamiliar with the life-changing organization Addison Central Teens, let me introduce you two. ACT is a teen center located in Middlebury, Vermont that serves Addison County youth ages 12-18. We are a trauma-informed and LGBTQIA+ affirming space. Over the summer I served as a programming coordinator for their pay-as-you-can summer day camp and helped with drop-in hours after school. I currently lead their LGBTQIA+ group for queer and questioning youth.

There are many lessons I can write about: the importance of understanding the context surrounding direct service work; the value of learning in an intentional cohort; the necessity of empowered community involvement; why the CCE should get more financial support (only half-joking on that last one)… All of my lessons kept coming back to the same idea: why Addison Central Teen is life-changing.

I am not one to use the phrase “life-changing” lightly. ACT is very intentional about co-creating a space where people are comfortable existing in the way(s) they need to. The first thing we learn as staff is to treat the youth (and ideally ourselves) with unconditional positive regard. Of course this has its foundation in trauma-informed practices (reliability though consistent action and reaction is crucial, especially for supporting adolescent brain development for folks who have experienced trauma), but more than that, being able to enter a space where you will be accepted as you are and treated with unconditional kindness, care, and respect is life-changing for the individuals who share that space. If I had a space like Addison Central Teens available to me growing up, I would have learned to be okay with myself much sooner.

ACT is the most affirming space I have ever existed in. The lessons of that place empower me to continue co-creating affirming and inclusive communities because I now know a reality where those are possible. Trauma-informed practices are now at the foundation of how I interact with the world, and my time there fully affirms my calling to spend my life serving queer youth. I am now studying to become a high school health educator (with a priority of LGBTQIA+ inclusive sex education), and am stoked to spend much of my adult life being openly Trans represenation for youth like me.

It’s one of my greatest honors to be a part of a space like this. My life has truly changed.

Socially Just Community Engagement

The Center for Community Engagement is hosting 3 Winter Term Workshops focused on topics of social justice in working with communities. Each workshop will be offered in-person at 103 Hillcrest or virtually via Zoom. We encourage faculty, staff, community partners, and students to attend

Workshop 1: Understanding Power & Privilege

January 14th, 2022 2:00-3:30 PM

This workshop will focus on understanding systems of oppression and the role that privilege and power play in community engagement.

Facilitators:
Dr. Hector Vila: Associate Professor of Writing & Rhetoric
Jacqueline Qiu: Privilege & Poverty Student Intern
Anna Freund: Local Foods Coordinator at Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE)

Workshop 2: Social Identities & Intersectionality

January 21st, 2022 2:00-3:30 PM

This workshop will encourage participants to reflect on their own social identities and understand how their intersecting identities affect the ways in which one builds meaningful relationships with communities.

Facilitators:
Crystal Jones: Assistant Director of Education for Equity and Inclusion
Rostyk Yarovyk: CCE General Intern & Student in Community-Connected Learning course
Priya Sudhakaran: Student in Community-Connected Learning course
Nicholas Leslie: Program Coordinator at Addison Central Teens

Workshop 3: Ethical, Strengths-Based Community Engagement

January 28th, 2022 2:00-3:30 PM

This workshop will focus on leveraging community assets and resources to strengthen communities, understanding how one’s values, strengths, ethics, and personal experiences allow them to act as social change agents, and encourage self-reflection as a key component of growth.

Facilitators:
Diane Munroe: Assistant Director for Community-Based Learning
Gabriella Chalker: Project Assistant for Community-Connected Learning course
Rae Donovan: Social-Emotional Learning Coordinator at Mount Abe. Unified School District
Pam Berenbaum: Director of Middlebury’s Global Health Program

If you have any questions about the workshops, please reach out to Shannon Lyford at slyford@middlebury.edu or Gabi Cuna at gcuna@middlebury.edu.

Student Leader Spotlight: Eliza Marks, Page One Literacy Project


The following reflection was written by Eliza Marks ’23, the Programming Coordinator for Page One Literacy Project. Page One is a Community Engagement Organization which aims to foster a love for reading and an enthusiasm for learning among elementary school students. Page One was founded in 2000 as part of Middlebury’s bicentennial celebration. Page One has hosted weekly reading programs after school and read-a-thons, created craft kits for the Ilsley Library and Mary Hogan Elementary School, and participated in large one-time events like celebrating Dr. Seuss’s birthday. Here, Eliza shares the excitement of returning to some in-person programming and some of the upcoming opportunities that Page One is hosting. For more information about Page One, you can check out their instagram @MiddPageOne or sign up for their upcoming events at go/pageonesignups.

Over a year since the Page One Literacy Project’s last in-person event in the community, last Tuesday five volunteers went to Mary Hogan Elementary School. Page One Volunteers, including myself, wrapped over a hundred books that will be given to Mary Hogan students in all grades. November 1st marks the beginning of Mary Hogan’s annual read-a-thon, and each kid will get at least one wrapped book! Having newly joined Page One last year, I had never experienced a Page One volunteer event at a school. Although the programming was excellently adjusted to virtual events due to COVID, being able to physically go into the local community and see some of the people we were helping felt extremely rewarding. 

Page One followed up the Mary Hogan book wrapping event with a booth at the Middlebury Spooktacular. This is an annual event, hosted by The Better Middlebury Partnership, where local kids walk around town to different locations and trick or treat! Page One received a large donation from Bonnie’s Books of over 250 books to participate in this event. Volunteers, dressed in their best Halloween costumes, handed out a book (and candy!) to each kid that came by. Although it rained all day, around 250 kids engaged in the Spooktacular. The Spooktacular was an awesome way to be able to directly interact with local kids and their families. It was so exciting to see local kids and parents dressed up in fun costumes. The Spooktacular was a gratifying way to take a break from homework and spend time in the community.

Looking forward, the Page One Board has planned three events for Mary Hogan’s read-a-thon. Primarily, we are hosting a Strega Nona-themed virtual read-aloud. Page One has purchased 15 books for Mary Hogan families and fun Strega Nona-themed craft supplies. Volunteers will read Strega Nona to a group of students and lead craft activities. We are also hosting a virtual If You Give A Mouse A Cookie-themed read-aloud, where volunteers will read the story and then make paper bag mouses, paper plate cookies, and mouse ears with the kids! Our final read-a-thon event is a book club-style discussion about the Series of Unfortunate Events. Page One is donating 15 books and will host a conversation and activities related to the book. These events are virtual, but all have an in-person activity and aspect incorporated. This is a super exciting way to combine both in-person and online aspects so that volunteers can participate in whichever modality they are comfortable with, and kids can be more engaged. 

One of Page One’s goals is to maximize connections within the community. This fall marks the transition from exclusively virtual to hybrid programming. I am extremely excited to see how volunteers can work with the community to facilitate fun, safe, and rewarding events with local kids.

Alumni Highlight: Kenzo Okazaki ’21

The following reflection was written by Kenzo Okazaki ‘21 as a follow up to his previous blog feature, which you can read here. Kenzo has been kind enough to share his understanding of community and the ways in which he’s managed to stay in touch with Middlebury after graduation. Kenzo is currently pursuing a Masters of Philosophy in Political Thought and Intellectual History at University of Cambridge, but has stayed connected with Middlebury College and the Center for Community Engagement through the Service Translation Project that he started in 2020 in collaboration with the Service Learning Center at International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo. If you’re interested in learning more about the ways in which language can be used to forge long-lasting community relationships, you can visit the Language in Motion website or contact Kristen Mullins at kmullins@middlebury.edu

My introduction to Middlebury was at convocation in 2017. I remember two points from President Patton’s speech: 1. Middlebury College cannot exist without our community, and 2. Middlebury is not just in Vermont; we are all Middlebury, and it is wherever we go. As a first year, I had no idea whether this speech would remain with me or what shape it would take, but as I reflect on my time at Middlebury it has become clear that these lessons truly were at the core of the time I spent there. These words conveyed responsibility upon myself and my classmates, and watching them take up the challenge of building communities within the college and serving the needs of the communities that they chose has profoundly shaped my aspirations today. My contributions have been modest in comparison to those of many of my friends and classmates, but the fact that so many of us took it as our responsibility to help others never fails to astound me. It’s difficult to say it without sounding trite or like I am writing an advertisement for our school, but I do feel that I was surrounded by people and groups who felt a social responsibility to do good and that my own efforts were bettered by my interactions with them.

Going to graduate school was always part of my plan, and Middlebury’s international focus (through language/study abroad) was key to my decision to begin my postgraduate studies in the UK.

I have been staying connected to Middlebury College mostly through the Center for Community Engagement and the students working on the project I started last year. We now have to account for EST, GMT, and JST time zones, so it is very challenging setting up Zoom meetings! I am very happy that my relationship to Middlebury and that of my project are stable and in good hands respectively, and I hope that this partnership will continue to grow. It is so important that students are involved in making use of Middlebury’s resources (which includes its community of students!) and connections because they allow us to influence communities in ways that we could never do on our own.

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.