Tag Archives: A student’s voice

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.

Weekly Highlight: Japan Summer-Service Learning

Application deadline for Summer 2020–TODAY! Visit: go/jssl and access the application on the bottom of the page.

The Japan Summer Service-Learning Program (JSSL) is a collaborative, intercultural service-learning program that brings together undergraduates from Middlebury, International Christian University (ICU), and multiple member universities of the Service-Learning Asia Network. Participating students work, learn, and engage with local residents in the Tokyo metropolitan region as well as in Tenryumura – a small village in the mountains of Nagano Prefecture. While this is usually a four-week summer program, our summer 2020 session will be for three weeks, ending prior to the start of the Tokyo Olympics.

Xuan He ’20, a JSSL alumna, shares about her experience with the JSSL Program during the Cross Cultural Community Service’s (CCCS) 10th Anniversary.

Last year, student participants reflected on their time in Japan using the new Middlebury Experiential Learning Life Cycle (ELLC) hub website. This is a new reflection resource that educators across Middlebury College created together to support students across different immersive learning experiences to reflect on their learning.

Below are reflections from some of last summer’s participants.

Xiaoyu Wu ’22:

My name is Xiaoyu, and I am a participant in a summer program called JSSL (Japan Summer Service Learning). This program lasts for one month and provides participants the opportunity to experience urban and rural life of Japan. I enjoyed every minute of this program, but the thing that gave me the strongest impact was the monument of Chinese soldiers, which I saw in a rural village (Tenryu Village) in Japan.   

Sometimes I wonder why I am doing volunteer services in Japan while my own country needs help. The answer became clear after my journey to Tenryu Village. There were a lot of tragic stories in this village during WWII— Families broke apart because of the war; foreign soldiers and prisoners of war were forced to participate in the construction of the dam. When Kawakami san was giving this speech about the local history, I felt a mix of conflicted feelings— Anger, unfamiliarity, frustration… Why do we have to uncover the scars of the past again? The purpose is not to re-trigger the hatred but to remember the war, just as Kawakami san mentioned in his speech, “悲劇を忘れないように語り継、この事実を後世に伝えるのも我々の役目かなと思っています (I think we should not forget the tragedy, and it is our role to convey the story to the future generations).” 

There are indeed a lot of stereotypes exist between China and Japan, and it is our mission, the younger generations’ responsibility, to rediscover the good in humanity and break down these stereotypes. Because many people do not know that when forced labors were suffering, villagers shared their limited resources with them. Even after the war, there is a Japanese lady who places flowers in front of the monument every day for over 50 years.

Sam Hernandez ’22:

Hello, I’m Sam Hernandez and I am a participant in the Japanese Summer Service Learning program. During the month of July, me and an international team of students set out to participate in various service projects throughout the city of Mitaka and the rural Tenryū village. Something that has pleasantly surprised me about this experience was how easy it has been to work with people from various different cultures in a country where we are foreigners to make a difference in people’s lives.

While I say it has been easy, that means relatively. We have worked incredibly hard as a group and put in a lot of effort. But the reward we get, the memories, the experiences, the connections, they’re all so incredibly valuable that having to put in some effort is nothing. The benefits to this program will be lifelong. Not only that, but we have done meaningful service as well. The benefits for those we served are hopefully even more meaningful. Essentially, I learned that it doesn’t take much to make a difference. Whether it be helping your members make paper at a service center or pulling up ragweed in a park. Even just listening to an elderly citizen recount their youth and most valuable memories. We made an impact together as a team of various people from different backgrounds, beliefs, ideals, and goals. In only a month, we became friends. Our differences were embraced and welcomed. It was a most pleasant surprise.

Japan Summer Service-Learning program alumni – Brenda Martinez ’22, Sam Hernandez ’22, Xuan He ’20, Xiaoyu Wu ’22, and Stephen Chen 19.5 – gather for a light-hearted reunion with CCE’s Kristen Mullins and Atsuko Kuronuma during Ms. Kuronuma’s recent visit from Tokyo.

Consider applying for this amazing program. Visit go/jssl and access the application at the bottom of the page.

ASIA Students Attend the annual ECAASU Conference

Queenie Li ’22 writes about her and three other students’ experience in attending the East Coast Asian American Student Union (ECAASU) Conference in Pittsburgh, PA early this Spring.

Asian Students in Action (ASIA) took four undergraduate students to the East Coast Asian American Student Union conference in Pittsburgh, PA early this Spring. The annual ECAASU conference brings together various colleges to participate in workshops about the Asian and Asian Pacific Islander (AAPI) identity and diaspora, form connections between students, and to celebrate the AAPI identity. This conference is the largest and oldest conference for Asian Americans in the United States. Due to the support in part by funding from Community Engagement at Middlebury College, we were able to attend, gain knowledge, and make connections with other AAPI college students.

Nhân Huỳnh ’23, Shuyi Lin ’23, Lia Yeh ’20, and Queenie Li ‘22 pose for a photo during their free time.

Being surrounded by other AAPI students, we were empowered, reaffirmed, and felt deep sense of belonging. The conference was comprised of a diverse selection of workshops and caucuses. One workshop of note that two of us attended was entitled “Why Are We Here? The Role of Collegiate Asian Organizations,” inspiring us to reexamine ASIA’s mission and the community we serve. We left that workshop inspired and are now working to put on an inaugural AAPI conference here at Middlebury to serve colleges and folks in the northeast who were unable to attend ECAASU.

Lia Yeh ’20 with workshop facilitator and Midd alum Krysty Shen ‘17.

Of the caucuses, we were able to attend closed affinity caucuses or open caucuses about broader issues that we wanted to discuss. In light of recent news, there was a caucus dedicated to examining the coronavirus and the subsequent rise of xenophobia towards the AAPI community. The topics of discussion at ECAASU were reflective of current events as well as of continual issues that impact the AAPI community. Workshops and caucuses tackling recurrent issues offered deeper and niched perspectives that allowed for a new approach and understanding of the issues.

[The caucus focusing on coronavirus and the rise of xenophobia] was personally very powerful for me to be able share my emotions with many people and see that people share the same concern and frustration as me

Shuyi Lin ’23. an ASIA member at the ECAASU Conference

Apart from the workshops and caucuses, we found the conference valuable as it introduced us to other AAPI students from other schools. Due to our location in rural Vermont, being an AAPI student is often very isolating and we have little to no relationships with other collegiate AAPI organizations and AAPI students. The conference fostered those connections and we have left with new friends and collaborators. We are excited to have found companions and support on our journey as AAPI students. More importantly, we are thrilled to also be able to provide support to our new friends and to begin to provide support to AAPI members of the Middlebury community.

Shuyi Lin ’23, Lia Yeh ’20, Queenie Li ‘ 22, Nhân Huỳnh ’23, Rachel Jeong ’22 with members of Tufts Asian Student Coalition eat dinner together at the Conference.

Stay up to date with Asian Students in Action! Like our Facebook page (go/asiamidd/) or follow us on Instagram (@asiamidd)!

More information about ECAASU can be found here: https://www.ecaasu.org/

My MAlt Spring Break: Intersections of Faith and Climate Action

I spent my February break this year a little differently. I went back to Los Angeles, the place I have been calling home for the past 11 years, with nine other Middleury students. At 6:00 p.m. on a Saturday our plane finally landed in LAX, and I felt our group’s collective excitement and eagerness to learn about the intersectionality between climate change and religion and what roles we can play in helping mitigate this global crisis.  Although it is true that our trip was not the most physically demanding–we may have gone to the beach this week more than I ever have in one summer–I believe that it was one of my most intellectually and emotionally engaging experiences at Middlebury College. 

MAlt LA 2020 Participants in Long Beach, California for the beach clean-up with Algalita Marine Research and Education, a non-profit organization. Participants from left to right: Chima Dimgba ’21, Julia McClaine ’22, Rachel Jeong ’22, Nhi Do ’22, Isabella Primavera 21.5, Soyibou Sylla ’20, Bo Liu ’23, Anna Cox ’21, Bayu Ahmad ’21, Huiming (Sam) Liang ’22.

On our first full day, we visited the Metropolitan Church of Christ, a church centered on Creation. The whole community welcomed all of us with open arms, reflecting the core of their sermon that day: we humans are “the salt of the earth.” They shared the message that humans are one of earth’s most valuable resources and we have a duty to be kind to each other. This kindness must also extend towards all of God’s creation. We have a duty to protect and nurture the earth and everything that resides in it because we are simply sharing the earth with other living beings. Theirs was a call for responsibility. Although this was a clear articulation of the connection between climate change in religion, the most powerful experience I had in this church was more personal.

A banner hangs outside the Metropolitan Church of Christ. The church’s members are known as the “Queer and Quirky of Cahuenga Street” as they practice love for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation, race, and other social signifiers.

They did the Holy Communion a little differently from other more traditional churches. We were invited to join if we desired. I took the “body of Christ” with my own hands from a tray and dipped it in the chalice filled with the “blood of Christ.” After eating this, the deacon took my hands and touched our foreheads together in a very personal prayer. My eyes started to water as her words touched my heart. She said: “Blessed be are those who are young. For they really are the hope of the future.” At that moment, I realized that the older generation places so much faith in us to do better and to take better care of our shared world.

The most physically demanding–and emotionally exhausting–day that we had came on the third day of our trip. Half of the group, including myself, worked from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hippie Kitchen situated in the middle of Downtown Los Angeles’ notorious Skid Row. This neighborhood, called “Hell on Earth” by some, creates a stark contrast from the bustling and wealthy area of Downtown Los Angeles as you see streets upon streets filled with tents, shopping carts, trash, and items usually found inside a house. When you leave this neighborhood, you can immediately see a completely different set-up of the city: high-rise buildings, fancy restaurants, expensive apartments. As a native Los Angelena, I knew of and have seen this place in person–but only from the outside. Going inside the heart of Skid Row was, therefore, a surreal experience. I felt exposed and, admittedly, scared. When we got inside the Hippie Kitchen, I felt a sense of relief–no longer would I have to stand outside surrounded by the marginalized and unrepresented as the Kitchen’s four walls became my temporary refuge. I felt weird and I felt wrong.

Going inside the heart of Skid Row was, therefore, a surreal experience. I felt exposed and, admittedly, scared. When we got inside the Hippie Kitchen, I felt a sense of relief–no longer would I have to stand outside surrounded by the marginalized and unrepresented as the Kitchen’s four walls became my temporary refuge.

Isabella Primavera ‘21.5, MAlt LA Participant

As we rotated jobs once the Hippie Kitchen opened, I found myself serving salad to those experiencing homelessness. At this station, I distinctly remember one moment: One of the regular volunteers asked a regular patron where his wife was. He answered: “She’s in our tent today since she’s not feeling well.” That response hit me hard. In my everyday life, the “tent” would be substituted by “home” or “room,” sturdier and more personal spaces, places that are supposed to provide a comfortable shield from the outside. Hearing this man’s response, I felt a sense of shame. It was shame for being able to find comfort in going back to a comfortable house–with a bed, a heater, running water, a warm blanket–while my counterparts lived in their tents.

A billboard in Downtown LA stating “Homeless Republic,” depicting the California flag’s bear as a man outside of his tent– his home.

Before we started our shifts, we came upon the volunteers praying in a circle, holding hands. When they saw us (Middlebury students standing outside the kitchen), they opened up the circle and invited us join the prayer. The prayer, I faintly recall, was a prayer by St. Vincent de Paul–a priest who has dedicated his life to serving the poor. The prayer talked of our duties to the poor–that it is our duty to help them and even when they disrespect us, we must treat them with more kindness. I deeply respect all of the volunteers; their belief in the word of God drives their selflessness in serving the community in Skid Row. I respect those experiencing homelessness as well. Despite their situations, some of them come to the Hippie Kitchen filled with hope and gratitude. It is another day that they are alive and another day that they can eat and for that they are thankful. 

A wall in the Hippie Kitchen says “Make Beans, Not War.” The Hippie Kitchen, whose official name is actually Lost Angeles Catholic Worker’s “Hospitality Kitchen,” makes food (including beans) three times a week for those who need it.

There is so much that we did on this trip–so much learning, engagement, reflection–that one blog post would not be enough to talk about all of it. I’ve highlighted these two days of the trip because they contained the most impactful moments for me. While the first experience shows the direct connection between climate change and religion I experienced, the second experience shows that solving the climate crisis cannot stand in isolation from creating broader social justice. Climate change is a social justice issue. For how can the marginalized and underrepresented worry about the environment when everyday they have to worry about satisfying their most basic needs–food and shelter? This trip has made me realize that climate change is not just this abstract, global problem but a systemic problem–those who are not in the top 5% wealthiest parts of the population are the ones who experience most of climate change’s effects, but those with the most wealth are responsible for creating and maintaining most of the systems of dependence on, and actual emissions of, fossil fuels and greenhouse gasses that are causing the problem in the first place. The marginalized hold some of the fewest choices for taking personal action, too. People who need jobs must take the jobs available, even if they are in places like oil refineries. Those experiencing homelessness use single-use plastic because they don’t have access to sturdier containers. All of these complex problems are part of climate change.

 Climate change is a social justice issue. For how can the marginalized and underrepresented worry about the environment when everyday they have to worry about satisfying their most basic needs–food and shelter?

Isabella Primavera ‘21.5, MAlt LA Participant

Although these issues seem so big and unsolvable–believe me, I was feeling hopeless for a while–the communities that we have seen in action are all doing their part to try to fix the system from the ground-up. Faith communities as well as normal neighborhoods are all working with the people in their communities to tackle the climate crises–the Metropolitan Church of Christ and the Hippie Kitchen are just two of these examples. Because of these groups, I have hope that we can work together to change the world for the better. 

Looking Back on a Summer Well Spent

Pleased to share the final blog post in a series that highlights the experiences of Privilege & Poverty Interns as they learned and worked with local and national social services this summer.

This one is my (Connor Wertz ’22) personal reflection, which takes in the conversations and reflections I had the entire summer with other interns, my co-workers, and those I worked with at the John Graham Shelter.

Group shot of interns and community partners in a field.
The summer intern cohort and their community partners gathered for dinner and reflection in August. L-R: Abi Sessions (Board member – John Graham Housing and Services), Kerri Duquette-Hoffman (Exec. Director – WomenSafe), Olivia O’Brien (Middlebury College), Justin Srsic (Marymount Univ.), Luna Gizzi (Middlebury College),
Kassydi Dunnaway (Ohio Univ.), Anna Durning (Middlebury College), Joshua Lanney (Open Door Clinic), Nico Plume (Middlebury College), Connor Wertz (Middlebury College), Pete Kellerman (Co-Director, John Graham Housing and Services), Peter Mehler (Middlebury College), Brigett Weinstein (Middlebury College), Christina Grier (Services Director – WomenSafe), Doug Sinclair (Co-Director – Charter House Coalition), Cynthia Ramos (Middlebury College). Photo by Jason Duquette-Hoffman.

One hundred days. Not a very long time – in fact, less time than I have spent on any other job in my life. Yet I have taken to describing this past summer to those who ask as nothing less than perspective changing.

I started the summer primed from a lifetime of American culture, media, and my own privilege to see the differences between myself and others in our community. Indeed, I think I wanted to see differences, so that I could overcome them.

Ambitious? Maybe. Naive? Most definitely. 

Class, education, hometown, expectations from life, skin color, dignity, structural inequalities: I prepared analyses of all of these and more, and spent long nights wondering how they would play out in my personal interactions with those I would be working with.

Then, within the first few days of my internship, a little girl sidled up beside me, eyed me somewhat suspiciously with paper and markers in hand like an offering of peace, and said “Why are you so quiet?”

Four collaboratively completed pictures later, someone else recognized my hometown in Massachusetts. “That’s where Jack Keruac is from, right? Love him. Greatest American novelist.” Two conversations in, and I realized I was going to have to forget everything I expected. 

And 100 days later – days full of coffee conversation and creaky chairs, mornings discussing with other interns our shared experiences, concerns, and emotions – I can’t think of anything worth reflecting on except the similarities I’ve come to learn through relationships, even within structures of inequality.

At times, my first year at Middlebury College seemed like a constant performance of adequacy. Of proving one’s competency over and over – though I haven’t yet figured out to whom. This summer at the John Graham Shelter, living and learning as a part of the broader community in every sense of that term, if I had to prove anything it was how to be human: how to connect with people solely on the basis of what we shared.

Here, if I learned nothing else, it was just how many shared elements (hopes, sense of humor, needs) that we all have.

Thank you to the staff and community of the CCE, as well as the John Graham Shelter community for an experience that will shape me – has already shaped me – wherever I go moving onwards. I can only hope to give back a small fraction of the wisdom, the energy for change, and the inspiration that I will be taking with me.