Damaris Neaves ’24 (she/her/ella) has provided this reflection about her work organizing the 2022 Dia de los muertos celebration as a Community-Connected Project Assistant at Middlebury College. Damaris helps lead Juntos and the Compañeros program, which provides English language tutoring to local migrant workers. Find more information about Juntos and Compas on Presence. To learn more about our Community-Connected Project Assistant program, visit our website read or our previous blog post written by two Community-Connected Project Assistants, Student Reflection: Teaching Assistant(*note: since this blog was written, we have renamed our Teaching Assistant to Project Assistant).
The Día de los muertos Celebration and Procession was a collaborative interdepartmental, interdisciplinary, and community effort that aimed to gather as an inclusive Middlebury community to honor our ancestors and departed loved ones through art, song, dance, togetherness, and creativity. This project included many workshops and events that led to the main November 2nd celebration: an hour-long community procession that went all throughout campus and included song, dance, artistic performances, and community altars.
As the Project Based Learning Community-Connected Project Assistant, the role was to aid in the creation, production, and coordination of an immersive campus-wide celebration for all. This meant collaborating with both on and off campus groups interested in participating; curating educational and recreational workshops and events in the weeks prior to the main celebration; being a liaison for students, student organizations and clubs, and external community groups; sourcing local musicians to participate in the Nov. 2nd procession; working closely with external community members and find ways to collaborate; and, ultimately, including the participation and performance of the students in ARDV 0116A The Creative Process instructed by Prof. Olga Sanchez Saltveit within the Nov. 2nd procession.
Throughout this process, we formed many connections with external organizations, communities and individuals. Whether it was leading a fun workshop, catering Mexican food for community members, supplying traditional sweet bread for altars, or organizing a Spanish-language mass for the public, we were able to bridge the gap between the Middlebury College and surrounding community, offering a welcoming space. In all, this celebration came to fruition with the support and participation of 6 Middlebury College academic departments, 6 external community entities, 7 Middlebury College centers and resources, 10 student organizations and clubs, and the attendance of over 200 people in the Nov. 2nd celebration.
At its core, the Día de los muertos Celebration and Procession was a way to engage in reciprocal community connectedness, create new traditions among the college and students, provide a space for the Middlebury College community and beyond to heal from the universal experience of loss, and, fundamentally, celebrate the living and dead.
For many students, beginning college can be an exciting, albeit challenging time. In addition to the new academic expectations and experiences, new students are often discovering an entirely new community both on campus and in a new town or state. At Middlebury College, first-year students, 97% of whom come from another state or country, join a thriving campus community of more than 2,500 students in a town of more than 8,500 people. A vital part of integrating into the Middlebury community is finding your place, whether that be through a tight-knit group of friends formed during New Student Weekend, a program hosted by the Anderson Freeman Resource Center, or weekly club meetings organized by one of the student organizations on campus.
At the Center for Community Engagement, our goal is to support each Middlebury College student in finding their place on campus, locally within Middlebury and as a global citizen. We offer a wide array of programs, courses, and clubs that can fit into any schedule, focused on a multitude of interest areas like civic leadership, youth & mentoring, global engagement and language programs, and more. Many of our student leaders are varsity athletes or work-study students, and we find ways to help them find community engagement opportunities that fit with their busy schedules. While each of our program areas may speak to a different skill set or passion project, each shares a similar goal: to encourage students to engage in self-exploration, self-expression, and consider their place and power in whatever community they belong to.
For many students, CCE programs provide a space for students to make friends, build a support network, and find personal and professional growth opportunities. Madelyn Lander ‘23, who founded the CCE supported community engagement organization Yellow House Community Club shared the following quote about her experience at Yellow House Community, which inspired her to start the Middlebury club:
“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.”
In addition to the experiences available through student-led organizations, community connected learning courses provide an experiential learning opportunity that encourages students to engage in hands-on community building activities. CCE staff teach a Community Connected Learning course (INTD 121), which is a great way for new students to start building community with project support. Emily Carfi ‘21, who served as a Community Connected Learning Course Project Assistant said:
“[Community Connected Learning] was a great way for me to pursue community work with great guidance during such a difficult time of year. I learned about fellow Midd students’ involvement in the community, and I also learned about different organizations that are located in Addition County, which I hadn’t heard of before. It was so inspiring to see how all these students contributed to different organizations meant to serve different groups of people in need.”
For students who would like a more individualized connection with the CCE, we offer Find My Place meetings, which students can schedule by visiting go/FindMyPlace. Find My Place meetings provide an opportunity for students to meet with any CCE staff member to talk about options for volunteering that work best for their schedule and capacity. Through these meetings, students can see first-hand how customizable community engagement opportunities are at Middlebury College. We strive to ensure that students can choose their own adventure, with structure and support from the CCE every step of the way.
The Center for Community Engagement is intentional about creating a diverse set of experiences available to students interested in getting involved, but the possibilities aren’t limited to what we’ve already created. Each year, the CCE provides flexible funding through the Community Engagement Organization leadership group so that students can work on individual or group projects which may or may not lead to the development of a new student organization. This year alone, we’ve supported students in creating five new student organizations focused on collaborating with community partners. We also support grant programs like the Cross Cultural Community Engagement Grant that encourages students to dedicate their time to intercultural dialogue and exchange. We fully believe that every student should be able to find their place here at Middlebury, and if it doesn’t already exist, we’re here to help you create it.
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.
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 (email@example.com) or Gabi Cuna (firstname.lastname@example.org) 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.
As the year comes to a close and the winter break approaches, the Center for Community Engagement would like to As the year comes to a close and the winter break approaches, the Center for Community Engagement would like to take time to reflect upon and appreciate all the opportunities we had this semester to lead impactful initiatives, build lasting relationships between students and community partners, and connect with one another.
First-year students visited CCE student-led Community Engagement Organizations and local community partners at the Student Involvement Fair to learn how they can get involved in the community! The Center for Community Engagement prepares students for lives of meaning and impact through local, national, and global community connections. By strengthening students’ civic identities, knowledge, and skills, our programs work to strengthen communities and contribute to the public good. Students at this year’s fair had the unique opportunity to meet community partners from local organizations and learn more about how to make connections with the Middlebury community both on- and off-campus.
The Involvement Fair was just one of the ways the CCE connected with new students this fall. The CCE also hosted over twenty programs during Orientation that reached over 200 students in the incoming class to connect them with the broader Middlebury community and ways to get involved in community-connected programs. For more information visit the CCE website or follow us on IG @MiddCommunityEngagement.
Students in the Privilege & Poverty (P&P) academic cluster gathered over pizza to discuss what they’re learning in class about systems of oppression and how power and privilege impact social change. The Privilege & Poverty Academic Cluster integrates coursework with experiential learning to critically examine the causes and consequences of economic inequality.
This fall, students had the opportunity to take a variety of classes like American Consumer Culture, Culturally Responsive Pedagogy, Environmental Justice in the Anthropocene, and more. P&P students apply theory to practice by pairing their classroom experiences with a hands-on internship which can take place either locally or away. Local internship opportunities include working with organizations within Addison County including Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE), WomenSafe, Open Door Clinic, and more. For more information on the P&P Academic Cluster, visit the P&P Website!
Aniketan (AK) Pelletier ’25 enjoys a break at the West Rutland Art Park with Rutland High School (RHS) students during the fall Language in Motion (LiM) Mini-MAlt trip. The trip was a culmination of a pilot LiM/RHS collaboration, bringing global perspectives to the study of local history.
Language in Motion (LiM) is an educational collaboration that connects Middlebury’s international, study abroad, and upper-level language students with Addison County elementary, middle, and high school teachers, students, and classrooms. With support and training, Middlebury College students prepare and deliver lessons that promote global awareness, intercultural competence, and world language acquisition. This semester, 24 new and returning undergraduates and teaching assistants (and two alum) participated in the Language in Motion program. They collaborated with 11 teachers at five different Vermont schools to develop and deliver 17 classroom presentations. For more information about LiM and how to get involved, visit the LiM website!
New Community Friends mentors met their mentees for the first time as part of Match Day, an annual event that has been held virtually since the start of the pandemic. Community Friends, a one-on-one mentoring program that has been around since 1960, matched 20 new students with youth in mentoring relationships this semester. The program got special permission to hold Match Day in person with COVID precautions. Mentors, mentees, and families spent time talking, making crafts, and playing games with each other.
Community Friends is a one-on-one mentoring program that matches Middlebury College students with children ages 6-12 in Addison County. The pairs meet regularly, often on campus, to play games, make arts & crafts, visit fun areas around campus, and sometimes attend group events. Throughout this experience, students make long-lasting meaningful relationships with kids in the community. For more information about how to get involved in Community Friends, go to the Community Friends page.
The Compas sub-committee of the Juntos Board met to set goals for their remote and in-person English language tutoring for the semester, with the support of their CCE advisor’s dog, Flash. The mission of Juntos is to build a strong, safe, respectful, and socially just community with the long-term vision of equal social, economic, and human rights. Juntos seeks to uproot discrimination, exploitation, violence, and human rights abuses on Vermont farms. Through education, advocacy, and action for policy, Juntos works to support and be in solidarity with the migrant community.
This semester, Juntos met weekly with Compas participants, collaborated with Allianza to host a Dia de los Muertos dinner, brought on new Board members, and connected members with advocacy opportunities. For more information, go to Juntos Presence Page!
The Charter House Coalition Student Organization works closely with Charter House Coalition, a local social service agency that provides emergency shelter, meals, and essential items for individuals experiencing homelessness. The Charter House team provides many supportive services to help people reach their goals of finding and keeping permanent housing.
Throughout the semester, student volunteers meet in the Center for Community Engagement’s kitchen to prepare hot meals to take to Charter House. For more information about Charter House Coalition, you can view the Charter House Coalition’s Meal Schedule, or learn more about how to get involved with the Charter House Coalition Student Organization, you can visit their Presence Page!
Nutrition Outreach and Mentoring (NOM) partners with local schools and organizations to provide education and mentoring focused on access to nutritious foods and building healthy habits. NOM is a student organization at Middlebury College that aims to create community and connect people through food and food education. Our student-run group organizes volunteering events and classes with the purpose of both exposing young people to healthy local foods and food practices, and to acquire the independence and knowledge that comes with this life skill. The aims of our initiatives are to establish healthy eating and cooking habits and to raise awareness about nutrition and current food issues among the youth population.
This semester, NOM hosted over 20 meal kit prepping events, in-person and virtual cooking classes, and community garden events with Mary Hogan Elementary School, Middlebury Union Middle School, and Addison Central Teens. For more information go to NOM’s Website!
This semester, Page One Literacy Project made over 50 craft kits that Ilsley Public Library will give out to local youth to encourage a love of literacy. Page One Literacy Project aims to foster a love of learning in local elementary school students through weekly programming and community events like read-a-thons with Mary Hogan Elementary School and the Halloween Spooktacular. As mentors, organizers, and program leaders, Page One volunteers take an active role in promoting literacy in all of its forms. For more information about how to get involved, visit the Page One Presence page!
Projects for Peace, a global program which encourages young adults to develop innovative, community-centered responses to the world’s most pressing issues, is now headquartered at Middlebury’s Center for Community Engagement. Each year, Projects for Peace provides funding for around 100 projects. The program was formerly administered by the Davis United World College Scholars Program.
Middlebury students who are interested in getting involved with Projects for Peace can reach out to the Projects for Peace Campus Liaison within the Innovation Hub. For more information on Projects for Peace, you can visit their new website!
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 email@example.com.
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.
In the fall of 2020, Cassie Kearney ‘22 participated in the Center for Community Engagement’s first Community Connected Learning course. Here is the reflection she shares on her learning experience from the semester.
Last fall, Cameron Weiner (2020.5) and I engaged in service-learning through a partnership with the Center for an Agricultural Economy (CAE) to complete a final deliverable/product for the Community Connected Learning course. Founded in 2004, CAE is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that strengthens the Hardwick and greater Vermont food system by implementing programs that increase farm and community viability. Our interests and aspirations to diminish food insecurity while forming intimate connections with Vermont communities aligned well with CAE’s mission. For our final project, we constructed a COVID-19 impact assessment, which we titled, “Voices of the Pandemic: Perseverance, Hope, and Community.” We wove together personal narratives and published research to identify successes of CAE’s impacts on Northeast Kingdom (NEK) communities, specifically Hardwick, and to recognize needs and gaps where individuals were lacking/slip between the cracks. Our deliverable only contains one small glimpse of CAE’s COVID-19 response and impact, featuring the voices of farmers who have received resources and support from CAE, participants in the Hardwick Community Meals program, garden bed recipients, Grow Your Own workshop leaders, and community organizers involved in the Hardwick Area Food Pantry (HAFP) and the Hardwick Area Neighbor to Neighbor (HANN) group. By discussing personal narratives and pandemic data, we hoped that it would become evident how relief programs had been fruitful thus far and how these initiatives could be more diverse and effective as the COVID-19 crisis continues.
I loved my experience in this class because of how service was naturally intertwined within an academic curriculum. Understanding why communities are in need of resources, specific assistance, or care is the first step in deconstructing dominating power structures and dismantling the inequalities that sustain them in the first place. The overall success of the partnership made me so grateful for the opportunities provided by Middlebury, and working with CAE has been one of the most enriching, rewarding experiences of my college career so far. I was able to have an unparalleled, immersive semester in collaboration with CAE and community members despite never physically being present in Hardwick. I believe that this success speaks to the significance of the two-way street and reciprocity inherent in service-learning. Accountability and a shared knowledge of each side’s capacities, limitations, strengths, and weaknesses are critical in forming partnerships. If students are not wholly committed and focused on how they can best contribute to a specific community’s needs and strengths, then the organization can suffer detrimental effects – ultimately, the partnership could develop into a time and energy sink. Fortunately, that was not the case at all in my work with CAE.
My favorite part of the course/my project would definitely be forming relationships with the CAE staff and Hardwick community members. The enthusiasm, generosity, and mission of the CAE staff, along with the passions and excitements of my course instructors, made this service-learning experience so fun and fulfilling. The workload for the class never really felt like actual homework – I enjoyed what I was doing and realized I could actually help others in a virtual manner. In general, community engagement is so important to me because I love helping other individuals. Also, all of the community members that I interviewed or spoke with were so welcoming and receptive even though I was the outsider. I was very careful when navigating this line between learning about the community for my project and intruding on the good of the community/studying the community for academic obligations. Published literature shows many issues with short-term service-learning and the goals of higher institutions of learning. My supervisor, Lylee, once mentioned: “The best partnerships are the ones when both sides feel like they got the better deal.” I always tried to maintain reciprocity in my collaborative work with CAE, and I think that our partnership turned out the most fruitful that it could have been in COVID-19 times.
Seeing what I was learning in class being put into action or experiential learning was so valuable for my future goals to do nonprofit work in the Public Health field. I could witness how academic principles played out in my own experiences with community members and the CAE staff. Throughout the course and my partnership, I learned how to best identify and describe self-reflective practices, active listening, social location, privilege, and positionality. Fully comprehending how these personal factors impacted my perspectives and evaluations of a community separate from my own challenged me and pushed me to analyze common judgements and stereotypes. I learned to never take anything at face value; assumptions often automatically create barriers and further exclude members of society who are discriminated against or disadvantaged. Lastly, I have become mindful of the dangers of shaping communities as entities in deficit and shifting my frames of references to understand the situations of individuals divergent from my own situation here on campus and in the broader Middlebury community.
After Middlebury, I plan to get a higher degree in Public Health with a concentration in community or behavioral health. I would love to engage in nonprofit collaboration, so this course and partnership definitely prepared me for my future endeavors. This summer, I will also be working in a similar partnership program through the Forest Foundation. I will be making my own project by working with a nonprofit in the Boston area (organization is TBD). In addition, this course taught me how to concretely explain my goals and intentions (even when they aren’t fully formed!), to have confidence when facing obstacles or uncomfortable interactions, to utilize my creativity without fear, and to research and examine issues independently with a great deal of freedom.
“It has also been a vulnerable learning experience for the students, who have the satisfaction of knowing that they are doing work with real-world impact” Pam Berenbaum, Director of the Global Health Program and Professor of the Practice of Global Health, shared when asked about her thoughts on the Community Connected Project-Based Learning Teaching Assistant Program.
The Community Connected Project-Based Learning (CCPBL) Teaching Assistant Program, a pilot program within the Center of Community Engagement, aims to foster a rich learning environment where a trained group of Teaching Assistants (TA) collaborate with and support faculty, community partners, and fellow students with meaningful community connected projects embedded in courses. This past J-Term 2021 marked the program’s kick-off, with six student TAs paired up to work with faculty members and their class for the Spring semester. Prior to starting the program, Center for Community Engagement staff members trained the TA cohort via an independent study course which deepened their knowledge and skills for use in their support of real-world projects.
Across the TA-supported classes, each had a unique focus. Projects varied widely, with topics as diverse as sustainability, health, artistic representations of enslavement, and environmental communications. TA Kathlyn Gehl ’21.5 worked with Professor Ellery Foutch and the AMST 314: Vermont Collaboration Public Humanity Lab class, in partnership with the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, to transcribe and organize documents. By helping review past records, Kathlyn saw the benefit of this relationship for both the museum and the community since the digitization of these records allowed easy search for others.
The benefit of the program to the community is also visible in the project managed by Daniela Morales ’21, TA for Pam Berenbaum’s project with Porter Medical Center. Daniela, Pam, and the cohort of students worked together to analyze and write up Porter Medical Center’s Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) survey data, a federal requirement for non-profit healthcare providers. This collaboration relieved the stress of the team of health care and social service providers who usually carry out this work during the pandemic. Pam also remarked on the satisfaction this project brought for students — as they saw how their effort in creating the CHNA will be used to set local health care program priorities for the next three years.
Additionally, Kathlyn shared how she saw the value of such a program by mentioning how project-based learning has the ability to increase student engagement and student learning. The role of the TAs is to encourage a smooth relationship between professors, students, community partners and the notion of project-based learning in order to easily expand this pedagogy.
Through one’s engagement, the TAs can not only benefit the project but also themselves as individuals. Kathlyn reflected on how the program has been extremely valuable and rewarding, allowing them to learn about the groundwork of project-based learning and the history of Middlebury. TA Daniela Morales ’21 also stated how the program has equipped them to manage tasks and think of problems in a solvable way.
As the academic year wraps up, the Center for Community Engagement is preparing for the next round of the program and getting the ball rolling. Training for Fall 2021 course TAs will kick off in late August. Kristen Bright, Assistant Professor of Anthropology, who will partner with a TA in the Fall, expressed: “We’re excited to participate in the CCPBL TA program… The program will help us to expand our Ethnographic Research course as students engage with theories and methods of organizational culture.” Through this first spring cohort and beyond, the program is able to incorporate community-connected project-based learning more seamlessly into experiential, educational experiences at the college.