Author Archives: Gabi Cuna

National Mentoring Month

What is National Mentoring Month? 

Each year in January, organizations and programs around the nation celebrate the meaningful relationships that mentorship provides. Throughout the month, there are workshops, conferences, training, and more dedicated to teaching mentors vital skills and strategies for improving their mentorship relationships. There are also plenty of opportunities to get involved with mentorship for the first time or connect with a local or national organization dedicated to fostering relationships.

A group of Middlebury college students gather on the green grass outside the Center for Community Engagement. They're standing in pairs, talking with each other.
Community Engagement Leaders gathered in the fall to brainstorm goals & ideas for their organizations.

Why is mentoring an important aspect of community connection/engagement?

Research has indicated that mentoring provides a plethora of educational, behavioral, and social-emotional benefits,  for both mentees and mentors of youth. On average, kids who are involved in meaningful mentoring relationships have better academic performance, better school attendance, and more positive attitudes about school and classroom participation. They’re also less likely to partake in illegal drug and alcohol use and show decreased rates of violent behavior. Likewise, mentoring relationships improve the lives of mentors as well! Studies show that individuals engaged in both informal and formal mentoring often have increased self-esteem, a sense of accomplishment and pride, insight into youth experiences, increased patience and supervisory skills, and a network of volunteers. These benefits can be personally fulfilling and also contribute to career development and success, especially for college students who are developing vital interpersonal work skills. 

Through mentoring, each and every student at Middlebury college has the opportunity to make a positive impact on the lives of young people. By dedicating just about an hour a week to a mentoring program (less time than most of us spend scrolling through TikTok!), you can provide a sense of stability and connection to a kid or teen in the community.

What opportunities are there for students to get involved in a mentoring program at the CCE?

The Center for Community Engagement supports a variety of mentorship programs that can fit most student schedules and interest areas. If you are interested in joining one of the organizations described below, their contact information has been provided. In addition, you can reach out to either Shannon Lyford (slyford@middlebury.edu)  or Gabi Cuna (gcuna@middlebury.edu) who advise the Youth & Mentoring organizations. 

For individuals interested in volunteering with elementary aged youth, Community Friends, Page One Literacy Project, DREAM, and Nutrition Outreach & Mentoring (NOM) provide opportunities to work with kids aged kindergarten through fifth grade. Programs like Community Friends and DREAM match college students to kids directly and support 1:1 mentorship relationships, whereas Page One and NOM use group programs to support children’s literacy and access to nutritious foods respectively. 

If you’re looking for opportunities with middle school aged kids, Brother to Brother and Sister to Sister provide group mentorship opportunities. They host fun activities throughout the school year, accompanied by discussions about middle school issues like healthy masculinity, self-esteem, and bullying. NOM also hosts in-person cooking classes at Middlebury Union Middle School during the school year. 

For opportunities with high school students, check out Middlebury College Access Mentors (MiddCAM) who lead a 1:1 mentorship program that pairs middlebury college students with Addison County high school students so that they can learn more about their post-secondary options and the college application process. Mentors are paired with their mentees during the spring semester of their junior year in high school and stay paired for three semesters, until their mentee graduates high school. NOM also hosts group mentoring programs focused around nutrition and access to healthy foods in collaboration with Addison Central Teens. This program relies on a consistent group of volunteers who visit the teen center biweekly and host cooking classes and activities. 

As you can see from the variety of programs and activities offered, the Center for Community Engagement supports a multitude of ways for you to get involved in mentorship. These programs can fit a variety of schedules and time commitments, age ranges, and focus areas. For more information, click through and check out the Presence page for each of the organizations discussed, or contact Shannon or Gabi to discuss ways to get involved.

Staff Reflection: Shannon Lyford

Shannon Lyford is the Assistant Director for Educational Partnerships at the Center for Community Engagement. This week, she provides a thoughtful reflection on her experience joining the CCE team in a time of transformation for the Middlebury community at large and how she works alongside community leaders to navigate challenges created or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the ways in which the CCE creates meaningful connections with youth in Addison County, visit our Community Engagement Organizations website or email Shannon Lyford at slyford@middlebury.edu. 

Coming into the CCE as a new staff member this past summer put me in a unique position to learn and identify how the CCE can play a role in addressing the rise in youth educational challenges caused by COVID. The pandemic has impacted the world on a global scale, causing varying degrees of trauma among all of us. While adults have had jobs disrupted and social commitments canceled, children have seen school moved online and isolation from peer groups. As children’s brains are still developing, these social interactions are critical for children to learn social skills and self-management skills. The pandemic has made it more difficult for children to interact with others in settings that are important to develop positive social-emotional skills. Masks and social distancing, important safety measures allowing children to be physically together, also prevent children from learning how their words and actions impact others using facial and other visual cues. Our children need additional support now more than ever, coming out of a period of global stress and isolation.

Youth with marginalized identities (for example: BIPOC youth, LGBTQIA+ youth, disabled youth, youth living in poverty) and youth living in rural environments have faced even greater challenges during this time. Youth with marginalized identities often have less access to afterschool programs or educational supports than their more privileged peers. In rural communities, like much of Middlebury’s local Addison County, transportation challenges and political polarization have led to greater isolation during the pandemic and increased conflict at schools between students. Efforts to support our children must take the identities of individual youth into account in order to provide an equitable experience for all.

Schools are working to support students during this challenging time, requiring major adaptations and often preventing a sense of stability for children in the schools. For youth experiencing grief, mental health issues, or the effects of poverty and/or racism, these changes have been especially challenging. For many youth, the pandemic has created a level of stress that has caused them to act out against teachers and other students. There has been a significant rise in behavioral challenges in schools across the US, from verbal arguments, physical fighting, bullying, property damage, and other defiant behavior. Children witnessing violent behavior from other students are often scared to come to school, disrupting the learning of all kids. In some schools across the country (and in Addison County schools), children have become increasingly polarized in their views, often aligning with the views of the adults they live with. Schools have also seen an increase in bullying and harassment behaviors among children with different viewpoints, often leading to BIPOC or LGBTQIA+ youth being targeted and feeling unsafe and unsupported in their school.

A small child facing the camera sits in the grass next to an adult who is facing away from the camera. In the background, an adult and a child sit in colorful Adirondack chairs.
Shannon meets a Community Friends mentee at the Community Friends Fall 2021 Match Day.

In addition to the pandemic and all the social-emotional challenges associated with the disruption, disappointments, and isolation that we’ve all faced over the past two years, schools are also facing staffing shortages which weakens schools’ ability to provide important supports to children. The understaffing in schools combined with higher social-emotional needs has led to the need for schools to rely more heavily on volunteer and community support; this has also provided an opportunity for community engagement organizations to play a role in supporting youth. One local middle school, Middlebury Union Middle School (MUMS), recently brought parents of students together to facilitate a conversation around solutions to the current school climate. MUMS identified several areas of focus impacting many of its students and families including transportation, joy and connection, outdoor time, and food access.

The CCE has strengthened its efforts to connect with schools during this critical time, joining local school board meetings and connecting with community engagement committees with school districts. As a new staff member at the CCE (and new employee to Addison County!), I came into the role during a challenging time with a fresh view- an experience that was both refreshing and challenging. I sought to form connections with as many staff in the local schools as I could. I connected with school counselors, social-emotional leaders, and teachers about the needs of their students and how the CCE could support their efforts to educate their kids in a safe and nurturing environment. As a team, the CCE spent time discussing our response to the difficulties faced by schools. We continue to listen and connect with schools to understand how best to provide support, and we continue to seek opportunities for Middlebury students to get involved, as aligned with Middlebury and K-12 school COVID guidelines.

Our Youth & Mentoring CEOs continued to work with kids as much as possible given restrictions around vaccinations. Community Friends met with their mentees virtually to continue strong mentoring relationships they’ve formed with local youth. Nutrition Outreach and Mentoring (NOM) brought virtual cooking classes to local kids’ kitchens, dropping off fresh ingredients and guiding kids and their adults through cooking healthy meals together. Page One Literacy Project have created virtual read-alouds with kids to get them excited about reading, and they have also worked closely with the Ilsley Public Library to create craft kits for kids to take home and learn about different stories. I have been inspired by the efforts of our Middlebury leaders to adapt to continue providing critical support to children during the pandemic.

During these challenging times, it’s important to remember the strength of our communities. By coming together to address issues that impact us all (and the future of our community and country), we can better support each other and find solutions. While connection looks different now than it has in the past, the pandemic has made it clear that coming together as a community, and ensuring that everyone in our community has a voice at the table, is the only way forward.

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.