Tag Archives: Reflection

Student Reflection: Dia de los Muertos

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.

Alumni/CCE Staff Highlight: Devin McGrath-Conwell

By Devin McGrath-Conwell

I talk about stories a lot. Possibly, depending on who in my life you ask, too much. This is nothing new. Growing up, I quite often had my face buried in the newest book I could get my hands on. I was an equal-opportunity reader. There was a lot of fantasy, but always matched by a dose of historical fiction, The occasional sci-fi, and of course, how could we forget reading all of James Patterson’s Alex Cross novels under the covers because I wasn’t supposed to. It wasn’t too long after that when I realized movies scratched the same itch. No, I didn’t quite realize what a screenplay was when I was young, but I did know that I could sit down in front of something on ABC Family or Turner Classic Movies and feel just as transported as one of my books.

You may be asking why I am rambling on about this. Well, the fact is, it was all that young love for storytelling that brought me to Middlebury College. Junior year of high school I took a class with Barbara Barklow that provided me with a life-changing realization: I could study movies in college. Once I got some to Midd, I didn’t waste much time before becoming a joint-major in English & American Literatures and Film & Media Culture. My courses allowed me to develop how I thought about stories as well as how I told my own. Poetry workshops, writing seminars, and all manner of critical essays supported my development as a procurer and analyzer of narrative. Stories are all around us, whether we’re writing them, listening to them, watching them, or even struggling to remember what happened last weekend when you’re at dinner with your friends. It is all of that which feeds into my work at Projects for Peace. 

I am not an international politics scholar by any means. Yes, The West Wing was a formative show in my teenage years, but it’s not quite like Aaron Sorkin delivered a whole lot of actionable policy to work from.  I came into this position as Digital Media Coordinator for Projects for Peace knowing that I had, and still have, a great deal to learn about the topics and issues wrapped into peacebuilding and changemaking. What has been so wonderful about this position, is that it has allowed me to apply my expertise in narrative pacing, story beats, and identifying themes to the remarkable true stories of what Projects for Peace grantees accomplish every summer. Every week, I get to dig into proposals and reports to try and boil down these incredible stories of peacebuilding into formats that get them in front of new people.

It is, admittedly, a challenge. The hard work here is done by the college students furthering the cause of global peace. My role is to make sure that their work is documented and broadcasted so that more folks are inspired to pick up the torch. This can mean creating Instagram posts, LinkedIn articles, profiles for our reading room on the website, or assets for Campus Liaisons at other institutions to better prepare them for any and all communications needs. Each task carries along unique challenges, but I see all of them as orbiting around the central idea of telling stories as profoundly and directly as possible. Because of this, I draw on my work as a Middlebury student every day. No, I’m not writing screenplays or doing literary analysis at Projects for Peace, but my work calls upon the same creative muscles that drew me to the college in the first place.

The point of all of this, if there is one, is that moving from college into the workforce does not mean dismissing those passions and curiosities that delivered you to that transitional point. Did I think that I would be working in communications and media for a grant program focused on global peace? Absolutely not. But, what I hoped for was a way to continually engage with storytelling and the creative aspects of the craft that I love. As a result, I have been able to learn an incredible amount about peace work in a multitude of communities and through a patchwork of approaches. I am constantly inspired by the stories I am able to encounter because of Projects for Peace, and I enter each day hoping that I can do justice to the work our grantees accomplish.

Semester Highlights!

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.

Student Activities Fair

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.

Three students sitting outside the CCE enjoying pizza at sunset at the Privilege & Poverty pizza social.
Privilege & Poverty pizza social.

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!

Five students participating in Language in Motions mini-MAlt trip.
Language in Motion (LiM) Mini-MAlt Trip!

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!

Middlebury student and their mentee posing with their name necklace at Community Friends match day.
Community Friends Match Day.

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.

Three Juntos board members in a meeting at the CCE with a CCE advisor's dog, Flash.
Juntos Board’s Compass Sub-Committe Meeting!

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!

Four students cooking in the CCE kitchen for the community supper.
Charter House Coalition Student Organization cooking community supper. 

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!

Middlebury NOM participants posing for a picture while working in the community garden located Mary Hogan Elementary School.
Nutrition Outreach and Mentoring (NOM) working in the community garden at Mary Hogan Elementary School.

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!

Three Page One students pose for a picture as they work on making craft kits for the Ilsley Public Library.
Page One Literacy Project making craft kits for Ilsley Public Library. 

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!

Ashley Laux (L) meets with, from L to R,  Lisa Viau and Phil Geier of DUWCSP, and Betsy Vegso and Antonio Baker-Médard the incoming staff for Projects for Peace, now based at CCE.

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

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.

Finding Community and Connection: Yellow House

Eight individuals stand in front of a yellow van, smiling at the camera. They have yellow paint splattered on their blue Yellow House t shirts.
Mady and friends painting a van for the demo derby at field days sponsored by G Stone motors.

The following reflection has been thoughtfully composed by Madelyn Lander ‘23 who participated in a 2020 summer internship with the Yellow House Community in Middlebury. Madelyn is working to create the Yellow House Community Club, a community engagement organization focused on connecting Middlebury College students to the residents of Yellow House Community through planned collaborative activities and dialogues about disability inclusion. To find information about joining Yellow House Community Club, you can email Madelyn Lander at mlander@middlebury.edu. Updates about upcoming Yellow House Community Club meetings and events can be found in the Center for Community Engagement’s weekly newsletter. Like Mady, if you have an idea or inspiration for a community engagement project, you can reach out to the Center for Community Engagement for support through advising, grant funding, outreach, or community partner connections. 

When classes ended this past spring I didn’t have to travel very far after campus closed. I packed everything out of my dorm room and into my car before driving about half a mile from my dorm to a small apartment on Weybridge Street, right next to two college owned houses my friends had lived in the year before. My internship at the Yellow House Community (YHC) right here in Midd started in seven days and I had no idea what to expect.

The first few weeks flew by and I suddenly found myself in July with the first few weeks under my belt. 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. The essence of my work at YHC was to assist the daily support staff in the fulfilment of the program’s mission: to provide adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities with safe, residential family households, meaningful vocation, and the support to continue developing skills, interests, and relationships, but as I completed my midsummer reflection for the CCE I realized that it didn’t feel as serious as it sounded when I wrote it out. Essentially what I did everyday was wake up, spend seven hours with people whom I was forming strong and deep friendships with, explore the local area, and go home each night feeling fulfilled.

Through this experience this summer with YHC I learned that community connection is founded in the interdependence we all require to survive. None of us exist in isolation, and for the work we are doing to be meaningful it must honor this truth, whether that connection be within your workspace, or a broader network. Through this experience I not only learned about residential care for adults with disabilities, but also discovered what it feels like to work in a space where everyone wants to see everyone else succeed.

Thank you to everyone at CCE, as well as Yellow House, for this experience which has shaped me and will continue to affect the choices I make about my own future and the type of life I want to live. I hope that I can continue to live my life in connection with others, and inspire others to do the same, casting off the isolating idea of individuality that permeates many college campuses.

A Shepherd Intern on Her Experience and the Future


My name is Nora O’Leary and this summer I am working at HOPE, a non-profit organization that provides food, clothing, and resources to low-income and homeless families in Addison County. HOPE has a food shelf, which is available to families once a month, and a surplus area stocked with day-old food from Hannaford’s supermarket and other generous locals. The organization earns money from sales at their thrift shop, Retroworks, which they use to aid families with a variety of expenses, from heating bills, to laundry vouchers, to car repairs. HOPE also provides assistance to homeless individuals with basic necessities, camping supplies, and with the difficult transition out of homelessness. Because HOPE is not a government-affiliated organization, the staff is able to be flexible and provide financial assistance based on a person’s needs at any given time rather than following strict guidelines. That means there is a lot of personal interaction with the clients, because the staff seeks to hear everyone’s stories and understand their struggles, in order to help them in the most effective way possible. As HOPE’s receptionist this summer, I have had the opportunity to have the initial contact with every client who walks in the door, hear their stories, and figure out how best to help them.

Coming into this summer, I wasn’t sure how this internship would relate to my (hopefully) future career as an elementary school teacher. However, I’ve found myself thinking about how closely related the cycle of poverty and education really are. Many clients that HOPE works with struggle with obesity, or drug addictions, have been incarcerated, or have never finished high school. These problems are ones that people are often harshly judged for in our society, because they all involve making some poor choices along the way. However, more and more I have thought about the young child within each of those clients who comes in. Who taught that child about nutrition, or warned them against drug use, or encouraged them to release frustration in healthy, non-violent ways? What about the child who quit school to start working and help his parents pay to keep the heating on in the winter? Many of the clients who come into HOPE everyday never had someone to teach them important lessons about finances and managing money, or a positive role model whose example they could follow in life. A teacher can be a hugely positive influence on a child, and this job has made me so eager to be that for a child someday. I continue to think about how a client’s life might have been different had they someone who believed in them, and encouraged them to work their hardest in and out of school everyday. I am hugely grateful for so many things this summer has taught me, but motivating me to continue on my way to becoming a public school teacher is an unforeseen and wonderful outcome

Nora O’Leary, ’17