Tag Archives: Student Stories

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 Highlight: Kenzo Okazaki ’21

The following reflection was written by Kenzo Okazaki ‘21 as a follow up to his previous blog feature, which you can read here. Kenzo has been kind enough to share his understanding of community and the ways in which he’s managed to stay in touch with Middlebury after graduation. Kenzo is currently pursuing a Masters of Philosophy in Political Thought and Intellectual History at University of Cambridge, but has stayed connected with Middlebury College and the Center for Community Engagement through the Service Translation Project that he started in 2020 in collaboration with the Service Learning Center at International Christian University (ICU) in Tokyo. If you’re interested in learning more about the ways in which language can be used to forge long-lasting community relationships, you can visit the Language in Motion website or contact Kristen Mullins at kmullins@middlebury.edu

My introduction to Middlebury was at convocation in 2017. I remember two points from President Patton’s speech: 1. Middlebury College cannot exist without our community, and 2. Middlebury is not just in Vermont; we are all Middlebury, and it is wherever we go. As a first year, I had no idea whether this speech would remain with me or what shape it would take, but as I reflect on my time at Middlebury it has become clear that these lessons truly were at the core of the time I spent there. These words conveyed responsibility upon myself and my classmates, and watching them take up the challenge of building communities within the college and serving the needs of the communities that they chose has profoundly shaped my aspirations today. My contributions have been modest in comparison to those of many of my friends and classmates, but the fact that so many of us took it as our responsibility to help others never fails to astound me. It’s difficult to say it without sounding trite or like I am writing an advertisement for our school, but I do feel that I was surrounded by people and groups who felt a social responsibility to do good and that my own efforts were bettered by my interactions with them.

Going to graduate school was always part of my plan, and Middlebury’s international focus (through language/study abroad) was key to my decision to begin my postgraduate studies in the UK.

I have been staying connected to Middlebury College mostly through the Center for Community Engagement and the students working on the project I started last year. We now have to account for EST, GMT, and JST time zones, so it is very challenging setting up Zoom meetings! I am very happy that my relationship to Middlebury and that of my project are stable and in good hands respectively, and I hope that this partnership will continue to grow. It is so important that students are involved in making use of Middlebury’s resources (which includes its community of students!) and connections because they allow us to influence communities in ways that we could never do on our own.

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