Tag Archives: Student Stories

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.

Community Connected Learning Course Spotlight: Cassie Kearney ’22

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.

Highlight: Community Connected Learning (CCL) Course

As a member of the larger Experiential Learning Center (ELC) ecosystem with the Center for Careers and Internships and the Innovation Hub, the Center for Community Engagement (CCE) is the primary site for students and local partners wishing to involve themselves in roles with activities that strengthen communities and contribute to the public good. 

Recently, however, the Center for Community Engagement has been able to branch itself out and expand its purpose into the academically-credited arena through its Community Connected Learning (CCL) course. For years, the CCE has been collaborating with faculty in stimulating community-connected experiential learning opportunities for students. To continue this aspect as well as to make the opportunities more versatile and with a project-focused format, the CCL class was developed. The creation of the course also stems from the cravings students expressed for experiential learning opportunities in and out of the classroom. Thus, the CCE launched its first CCL course in the fall of 2020 as a way to support students in their community-connected learning ventures. The course instructors were CCE Director, Ashley Laux, Assistant Director, Jason Duquette-Hoffman, and Assistant Director,  Kristen Mullins. 

To give students another chance to pair community engagement services with academic credit, the CCL course was offered again to students this Spring 2021. This semester, the class is led by CCE Assistant Directors Jason Duquette-Hoffman and Kristen Mullins, and Program Director, Kailee Brickner-McDonald. For both Fall and Spring, the class had 47 students altogether who participated and developed various projects topics with community partners. 

By offering the Community Connected Learning course, the CCE is able to broaden its work and mission goal. When asked how this class connects to the center’s objective and the College’s mission, the instructors collectively responded, “CCE’s work and mission carries some assumptions. A core assumption is that the liberal arts has a responsibility to the public good. We also believe that students’ civic development – their sense of themselves as active and contributing members in their communities; and the skills and knowledge to be successful in that work – are important elements of their liberal arts education. And that we – staff, faculty, students – are members of the communities in which we are learning; and as such have an ethical responsibility to do no harm. And, ideally, that we are contributing to the public good of these communities.” 

The CCE also hopes the class will prove beneficial to both students and community partners. Instructors of the class expressed their hope to “deepen students’ civic knowledge, skills, and identities through work that matters in the current moment, with partners in our communities who have so much to teach us.” Additionally, the instructors shared the collaborative nature of the relationships between students and community partners that make their involvement full of transferable lessons and meaning with each other. 

Instructors encourage students to take this course not only for its cross collaboration with local partners but also because of the empathy, perspective grasping, awareness of self and others one may gain from it.

Two students share their experiences towards the course’s positive influence for engaging in community projects. 

Emily Carfi 

Class Year: 2021

Major: Psychology Major, GSFS minor

For my project, I continued my work with Charter House Coalition, a homeless shelter located here in Middlebury. My project focused on homelessness and food insecurity during the pandemic and I worked to coordinate a safe, off-campus cooking group to provide a weekly meal for the shelter with other students, while following Covid safety guidelines. In addition to this, I created a “crowd” recipes list with dishes that can serve roughly 100 individuals. These recipes also include vegan and vegetarian alternatives to serve all guests at Charter House and to create a more inclusive meal experience.

This course 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. I also learned a lot about what it means to engage in service learning, which is separate from volunteerism, and this is a crucial aspect to community involvement. I additionally gained a lot of communication skills, while expanding upon some existing organizational and work-related skills. This course was so beneficial and couldn’t have been introduced at a better time. In the end, we provided likely 500+ meals in the Fall semester, which was an exceptional accomplishment that I am proud to have been a part of facilitating.

I still am continuing my community work during my last semester here at Middlebury, working closely with Charter House to provide a weekly meal and to get students involved in community engagement. I have always had a passion for helping the community, but this course has helped me to progress this passion and utilize skills to the best of my ability.

Emily Hyer

Class Year: 2023

Major: Neuroscience major, Spanish and Global Health double minor

I worked with an organization called the Early Care and Learning Partnership. We researched early child care in Addison County and its relationship to health outcomes and COVID-19. My work involved interviewing child care experts, sending out a survey, and setting up social media like mail chimp and Facebook. I really enjoyed the course and how you could make it into an experience that best suits your interests.  I learned a lot about what community engagement means and how it is best used in a specific community. It also taught me the necessary skills to work in a community mindfully and ethically. I also learned a lot of personal skills from my project work–communication, active listening, and how to be organized and professional.

My favorite part was getting to work alongside my two project leads Cheryl Mitchel and Dr. Brakeley. They are both such strong and inspiring women who have had such a huge impact on the community in the years they have dedicated themselves to working here. I was so inspired and motivated by their stories and felt privileged to get to meet them. Getting to work on such a hands-on project has made me feel much more connected to Addison County. The course made me realize how much cool and impactful work could be done right here in Addison County, and pushed me to get more involved with the clubs I am a member of.

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

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.

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/