Author Archives: Tenzin Dorjee

Experiential Reflections: Jordan Saint-Louis’s Community Connected Learning Class Journey

This blog is written by Jordan Saint-Louis ’24, a student from the Center for Community Engagement’s first Community Connected Learning course in Fall 2020, on the class experience.

Funny enough, I registered for the Community Connected Learning (CCL) course in Fall 2020 with the idea of using my streetwear label, VOICI which I had been working on since May of 2020, for course credit at Midd. That was the initial motivation when I started the CCL class, “how can I tie my business to a course at Midd”. I think within our second or third week though, I had this revelation that my approach to VOICI was flawed. This led me towards taking Midd Entrepreneurs this J Term which confirmed we were lacking in development within a crucial part of our business. In a sentence, VOICI is about building a community and telling the story of the community within the DMV (D.C, Maryland, Virginia) area and hopefully to other markets as well. However, in my honest opinion that honestly doesn’t scratch the service of our brand (check it out @voici on Instagram) and taking the CCL course made me realize my business could be further developed! My project for the class was titled “Still Chocolate City” and was centered around the U Street Corridor in Washington D.C. which was once dubbed “Chocolate City” and how the soul of the area was disappearing due to gentrification. I had never done or participated in community engagement work unless you count community service, which I learned during the class that we should not mistake the two as being the same.


As mentioned above, the first thing I learned in the class was how different community service is to community engagement learning. Everything from the structure and goals of the work done to the relationships built contrast drastically. Community service is done to a community whereas community engagement is done with the community and for the community, to create a mutually beneficial relationship. However, the most influential part of the course was when learning about dispositions and how we should think about/present a community to others. Often, we look at a community based on what they lack and how much we can help them with our resources and “privilege”. This mindset greatly influences how we view the community and talk about it with others which form our dispositions. It is almost like they become a burden or we are doing them a favor by helping, but in truth, most of these communities are home to diverse communities that give birth to the culture that defines an area. U Street in D.C. is no different. So rather than say “we are giving back to the community” we say, “we are uplifting and building upon what they already have”. That was the most crucial distinction that I learned through the course. The course made me feel as though I could really create change within my community and honestly communities around the world. In the current climate in the world, I feel as though we all to some extent feel some responsibility to do something, no matter what “side” you are on, and for me, it is no different. The CCL course made me realize that my responsibility is to tell the stories of my community and educate my generation on the issues we have so that in the end we can come together to fix that. The course made me feel that this is the thing that I feel won’t get done unless I do it.

So rather than say “we are giving back to the community” we say, “we are uplifting and building upon what they already have”. That was the most crucial distinction that I learned through the course.

I believe we are all looking for that “thing” whether that be our purpose, our why, or our reason for living (if you want to get dramatic). So to any student pondering that question or whether to take the course, I would say take it. At the very least you will become closer with a community, whether that is Middlebury’s or your own. And if you really pursue it and search for it, your “why” might appear.

To learn more about the Center for Community Engagement’s Community Connected Learning course, click the link for more information: https://www.middlebury.edu/office/community-engagement/programs/civic-leadership/community-connected-learning-course

HOPE Holiday Shop 2020

Serving Addison County since 1965, H.O.P.E (Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects) is a local  non-profit organization located right here in Middlebury, Vermont. It runs one of the largest food shelves and retail stores in the county, where all of its donations aid the organization’s poverty relief work. And this year, even with coronavirus hovering over us, H.O.P.E did not let that stop their work in fulfilling their mission. Instead, they modified their procedures to ensure safety and continued onwards with their efforts.

Like many other aspects of our lives and the world, the annual HOPE Holiday Shop saw changes and challenges due to the pandemic. Regardless of the limitations set, the program achieved its core purpose in helping families who could not otherwise afford to purchase new gifts provide something a little special for children this holiday season. 

Usually in past years, the Center for Community Engagement coordinated with HOPE to provide campus support by organizing gift drives and raising donations. This year, unfortunately, that was unfeasible and the event looked a little different. Pre COVID-19, the program allowed families to enter its Holiday Shop at 282 Boardman St. and to browse gifts on-the-spot. Conversely, this holiday season HOPE took the operation virtually online by offering donors two ways to contribute: one by letting donors select their choice of gift by virtually shopping online for HOPE to purchase on their behalf and the other option by directly making earmarked donations. 

“The shop has historically been set up like an actual little store, It is beautifully decorated and very festive!” -Kate Selby. A photo of the HOPE Holiday Shop from previous years.

Although HOPE was able to amass gifts from these donations and bring in festive spirits like previous years, Kate Selby, coordinator of the HOPE Holiday Shop, commented on the challenge of how without the ability to run toy drives, these virtual donations might not have been as satisfying as donating actual items. Selby further shared how hard it was for HOPE to not see families come into the shop, roam around, and make their own gift selections. Even when faced with this challenge, Selby noted the highlight of her work as “a wonderful feeling to bring a bright spot to our families in need.”

The Center for Community Engagement’s AmeriCorps members, Tenzin Dorjee and Jilly dos Santos, who volunteered at the HOPE Holiday Shop this past December both reflected on their contribution during a time when human connection has tremendously changed. Tenzin Dorjee, the campus coordinator for the HOPE Holiday Shop, shared how human care and holiday love was still present in the air in spite of the no in-person typical Holiday Shop. “From packing a couple of the gifts to handing it to families through the window and saying ‘Happy Holidays, enjoy!’ it was touching” Tenzin says.  

Volunteer Tenzin Dorjee preparing wrapping papers to place in gift bundles.

Firsthand experience volunteering behind the program also showed both Tenzin and Jilly the difficulties involved. As gifts continued to be packed and distributed, the inventory slowly began seeing drops. Kate Selby mentioned inventory for the shop has always been hard. This year, particularly, gifts towards the end of its stock were bundled or substituted based not only on families ranked gift preferences but also what was left on the shelves. With the gift forms families completed, Jilly shared how she needed to make some assumptions based on the forms and got a sense of the child based on gift selections made by parents. She told this story of how “one father wrote detailed notes by each category that were both very helpful and honestly nearly made me tear up because it was so clear how much he cared about having his daughter’s present feel personal.” 

With the holiday season passed us, these changes and challenges the HOPE Holiday Shop encountered this year have only strengthened the organization’s work. Although Kate believes “it will be better to get back to “normal” as soon as possible, she says, “if things need to remain remote next season, we will be ready!”

Privilege and Poverty Highlight

Privilege and Poverty is one of the Center for Community Engagement’s signature programs. It is an academic cluster (not a course taken for a major or minor degree) focused on providing experiential-based learning that aims to examine poverty and economic inequality.  

Active and running for about seven years now, the Privilege and Poverty Academic Cluster, is a community that consists of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community partners who all share the same goal. Through the program, students are given the chance to study issues concerning inequality and see the impacts of poverty both in and out of the classroom. Within the courses students take, there is not only coherence and structure but also ample freedom to explore their own interests and to pursue deeper connections. In addition to the classes, a key component of the curriculum are the field experiences and internship opportunities students can also participate in.  

To learn just a sliver of the greater Privilege and Poverty program, P&P 2020 summer intern, Andrés Oyuga ‘23, shares his experience. Andrés worked alongside Professor Matt Lawrence on the Places of Privilege and Poverty project gathering resources and communicating with local organizations. Their work resulted in the creation of a site that explores livable vs poverty wage and economic inequality in Vermont. This work he has done “has been very hands-on, whether that be organizing folks or providing a service/function. This is crucial work, and non-profits/community-based organizations would not succeed without people committing to this work.”

When asked to reflect about his favorite part of Privilege and Poverty, Andrés responded P&P is a great space to tackle serious questions about the role that poverty plays and to see how the conversations “go beyond simply numbers and data about these problems, but aim to humanize and connect students to these very serious issues.”

For Andrés, he feels the program challenges and forces students to think about the issues in our community and doing so helps break the Middlebury bubble. It has shaped him “into a more involved and concerned individual.” Andrés is thankful for the “cluster’s dedication easing into discomfort, because at the end of the day, that is how we can begin to find solutions!”

Andrés’ work from the summer and his time with P&P is just a glimpse of the cluster’s learning opportunity!

Link to site, Places of Privilege and Poverty, created by Andrés and Professor Matthew Lawrence: http://datastudio.middcreate.net/places/

Andrés Oyaga ’23

The Relationship Between Well-Being and Volunteer Experience

Reflections from Middlebury College students and CCE AmeriCorps VISTA member. Written for Middlebury College Campus Well blog.

How does building meaningful relationships with others, especially through service, support our well-being? Many people have had some volunteer experience at some point in their lives and the common consensus is that it feels good–to do something worthwhile, to focus on others’ needs rather than our own for a change. It seems that we are all, on some level, aware of the psychological benefits that come from volunteering. 

Based on a study cited in the Corporation for National and Community Service, “[t]hose who give support through volunteering experience greater health benefits than those who receive support” (pg. 3). Indeed, the strong “connection between volunteering, social psychological factors, and social networks” has been captured in what is known as the “social integration theory” or “role theory,” (4). A person’s numerous social roles naturally bring about different social connections. To know our role–and to know that we have a role–within a community gives us a sense of purpose and belonging. 

Our first taste at volunteer work almost always includes these feelings of significance and satisfaction. Nathaniel, a Middlebury student, remembers his earliest experience with volunteering as a Scout Troop. The younger boys were called upon to help the older boys complete their service projects, with the promise of cookies and other treats in return. “As I grew older,” Nathaniel reflects, “ I didn’t need the food as a reward but sought the satisfaction of completion and significance… We did not directly interact with community members while working on the trails, but returning to the land to see people using our trails left me satisfied. I looked at a job well done, and saw how our project improved the land and people’s well-being.” Knowing that our work has a positive impact on the larger community no doubt makes us feel that we are doing something right and something very significant. 

Moreover, volunteering helps us create meaningful relationships with people we usually don’t interact with. In turn, we may find ourselves experiencing personal growth. Lauren, a Middlebury student coordinator of the student service organizations, found that she was saying yes to more opportunities because of her experiences with volunteering: “I’m always prepared and ready to take on a new challenge, and I like doing so. I think that quality stems from my time volunteering when I was younger.” 

 Besides being open to trying new, different things we may also experience a change in perspectives due to the people we meet. Lauren works with a number of student-led service organizations. To her, it has been inspiring to see how they work with the community at large and she feels grateful for being a part of a wonderful group of people. After all, the people we get to meet often makes the work we do even more worthwhile. 

Nathaniel, in working with the Charter House Coalition at Middlebury, reflects that guests he’s met there have changed his views and reconsidered his opinions on numerous topics. “I love meeting people,” Nathaniel continues, “and the townsfolk of Middlebury are different from Middlebury College students. I feel thankful, and a more complete person for having volunteered there.” 

Jilly, a recent Middlebury graduate and a current AmeriCorps VISTA Member, echoes Lauren and Nathaniel’s experiences of personal growth from volunteering: “Service helps me to look outside myself and my problems, while also growing who I am as a person,” she starts, “When done well, there is a reciprocal relationship, where I’m learning more about the systems in which I operate, the needs that exist, and where my place is to make a positive impact or even take a step back and allow others to chart their own course.” Service makes us realize that problems exist “outside [of ourselves” and this realization helps us become more in tune with the rest of our community and, at most, the world. This connection helps us grow as individuals, because it allows us to see our own place within a bigger system and realize where our help is needed and where they aren’t.  

With her experiences volunteering in her own community, within Middlebury, and abroad Jilly found “the importance of taking one’s time to listen to the would-be recipients of service, to see where [her] ideas match reality, and how to respond productively where they don’t.” Not only does this apply to service work that she does, it also can apply to how she thinks about her relationship with others. Jilly adds, humorously, “Does my sister REALLY want more of my hand-me-down stuff when she never asks for it? Or am I just too lazy to go to Goodwill or properly recycle it?” 

While volunteering creates a lot of room for personal growth, it is important to remember that volunteering is ultimately about other people. The common conception that volunteering is the “right thing to do” is not wrong, but service work involves more than that. The lessons we learn sometimes vary depending on the type of volunteer work we do. Jilly’s most impactful experience with volunteer work was with MAlt (Middlebury Alternative Break Trips), She went to San Antonio Texas to provide Spanish-language legal advocacy to asylum-seeking families being detained in private prisons by ICE. “The work was hard, rewarding and often heartbreaking,” Jilly reflects, “we were able to not only do our part effectively, but to process the difficult feelings that come with serving a serious need, while knowing that out role is one tiny part of a complex system that won’t change because of our service.” Jilly highlights a very important aspect of volunteering. 

While giving back to others certainly feels good, it is also very important to be aware of how much our work is helping others, if they are at all. We volunteer not because we want to feed our own feelings of self-importance. Rather, we volunteer to try to genuinely help others however we can–even if our impact is small. And being aware of our impact certainly helps us keep our intentions genuine and helps us practice some humility.

THE IMPORTANCE OF LANGUAGE

Roni Lezama ’22, a recipient of CCE funding and a Cross-Cultural Community Service Grant awardee, shares his experience with Migrant Justice.

This summer I did a lot of translating related work for Migrant Justice. Migrant Justice has the mission to uplift and defend the voices of the farmworker community in Vermont and is actively taking steps to ensure the migrant workers are protected by a set of universal human rights. I was tasked with translating a lot of their website which is one of the primary methods by which they disseminate information to activists and farmworkers. The importance of language and accessibility comes into play because a lot of migrant farmworkers in Vermont may not have as well of command in the English language so having the website and resources updated in Spanish and other languages are essential to them knowing their rights and what Migrant Justice is fighting for. Soon after this summer, the Migrant Justice website will be updated with completely new, English to Spanish translated resources which will allow migrant farmworkers to reach out to Migrant Justice workers with questions on how to get involved and have access to resources regarding their rights at their disposal. These migrant farmworkers have historically been exploited and silenced by owners of the farms they work on but now they will be able to comfortably reach out to Migrant Justice and potentially get information that they originally may not have been able to access because they did not know English. Work regarding translation is a question of accessibility and striving towards having an inclusive website and resources interface is crucial to uplifting voices of marginalized communities and creating an inclusive environment. Organizations that do work related to immigrant rights are always in need of interns and volunteers to help do translation work so I encourage all students to reach out and dedicate some time to help foster an inclusive environment through language access! 

*This reflection represents the views of the author.