Celebrating 60 Years of Community Friends: Remotely…as Planned

The Center for Community Engagement wanted the approximately 5,000 current and former Community Friends mentors and mentees to be able to celebrate sixty years of mentoring relationships together from across the globe, even before the pandemic. We’re pleased to share our audio story about the program’s impact over the years, accessible from all over.

Here are some reflections from CCE Program Director Kailee Brickner-McDonald about the listening process that produced the Community Friends audio story.

This fall, I couldn’t have imagined where we’d be this spring, spread out remotely to keep ourselves and our communities healthy. But, even before the pandemic, I did know that the majority of total participants in Community Friends’ years of mentoring relationships were spread around the world, and however the Center for Community Engagement was to honor this year’s Community Friends 60th anniversary, that it would be better if we could connect within and beyond Addison County with our celebrations.

After attending Mary Wesley’s Vermont Folk Life Center workshop on listening projects at the Vermont Story Lab Summit at the Bread Loaf campus in September, creating an audio story from the voices of past and present mentors and mentees seemed like a beautiful way to bring folks together around what Community Friends has meant to them both during and after the experience. The program was originally run through the Counseling Services of Addison County and is now supported by the Middlebury College Center for Community Engagement. There have been nearly 5,000 participants over the years, and currently 140 college student and elementary school students meet one-on-one on a weekly basis in mentoring relationships through the program—so, many transitions of the program over the years, and many voices to hear!

We gathered a team of three passionate Community Friends mentors—Rasika Iyer ’22, Patrick Wachira ’23, and Alison Wheeler ’22– brought Mary Wesley in to train us, and embarked on a journey this past winter and spring to hear from a diverse range of former and current mentors, mentees, and program supporters.

We asked questions like: What drew you to participate in Community Friends? How do you or did you see your role as a mentor or mentee? What are or were some of the most meaningful aspects of your mentorship relationship for you? By the end of the process, we interviewed 27 people in a mix of in-person interviews (before social distancing) and interviews over Zoom with folks from around the country.

When things turned remote this unexpectedly this March, we were able to continue the project, thanks to CCE’s AmeriCorps VISTA member Ellie Dickerson ’19 (a former Community Friends mentor herself!) taking the lead on the audio mixing– which apparently is much harder to do collaboratively when spread across several states.

Our production team loves the outcome, and the process was just as rewarding! Rasika Iyer ‘22 reflected on interviewing past mentors, her favorite part of the process: “Many of their stories reminded me of similar moments I’ve had with my mentee, and it was touching to hear how passionate they were about the program years, and even decades, after they had graduated from Middlebury.” Rasika is also a current member of the 11-student leadership team that coordinates Community Friends, now leading the efforts to support remote mentoring this spring. Her connection to the audio story helped ground her engagement in the program, as “working on this project underscored the tangible impacts that Community Friends has on both mentors and mentees and how the work we do for the program really matters.”

Please listen to the story yourself, and hear about the power of the Community Friends program from across the years, directly from the voices of participants. They are stories that inspire us to make connections with those different than us and find common ground, have some fun together, find belonging, and learn about ourselves and others.

Click here to listen to our Community Friends: 60 Years of Mentoring story, and find more information about the project here. Enjoy!

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