Moving Forward

7 people sit around a table on a the screened-in porch of the Center for Community Engagement. They are sitting so that they can view a large TV which shows a Zoom screen where other members have joined them for a meeting.
Privilege & Poverty interns gather in person and via Zoom on the Center for Community Engagement porch.

The last year and a half has been a time of innovation and creativity for our student-led Community Engagement Organizations and staff-led programs. Traditional models of engagement typically include in-person volunteerism, community building, and face to face interactions that were not possible during the last three semesters. In order to maintain long-lasting relationships with community partners and continue to engage with the Middlebury community when it was needed most, many student organizations shifted to virtual or socially-distanced outdoor programming. As we move forward in the 2021-2022 academic year, COVID-19 protocols have shifted to reflect a highly vaccinated population while still accounting for community spread of COVID-19 variants. With these policy changes, student organizations have continued to innovate and grow.

For some organizations, virtual & socially-distanced programming opened up a world of new possibilities and projects. Nutrition Outreach & Mentoring (NOM) traditionally hosted in-person taste-tests and cooking demonstrations with local elementary schools to educate youth about healthy eating and cooking habits. During COVID, they developed cooking classes via Zoom and provided schools with ingredients to send home with students so that they could cook along at home. NOM also created a community garden at Mary Hogan Elementary where Middlebury students could engage with each other in person, without interacting in-person with children who aren’t eligible for vaccinations yet. Another Community Engagement Organization, The Special Olympics Club, moved programming outside and enjoyed the lovely weather by hosting outdoor walks and basketball games with Special Olympics Vermont athletes. Many of the 1:1 and group mentorship programs like Community Friends and Sister to Sister moved their mentor/mentee meetings and activities to Zoom so they could continue to connect with youth while maintaining physical distance. Other organizations opted for outdoor, socially-distanced, & masked gatherings when possible. Page One Literacy Project, an organization focused on encouraging a love of reading and learning among elementary students, participated in the Drive-Thru Spooktacular event hosted by the Better Middlebury Partnership and provided books & craft kits for more than 600 families during the pandemic. 

Middlebury College Access Mentors (MiddCAM), shared that they were able to successfully transition to completely remote programming during the pandemic and provide weekly mentor/mentee meetings online, as well as drop-in sessions for local high school students via Zoom. Though MiddCAM is excited for their mentorship pairs to have the option to meet in person again and host fun (and delicious) mentor meet-up events, all mentor pairs are given the choice of how they’d like to meet and some mentor pairs are still meeting virtually to accommodate busy schedules. These changes allow programming to be more accessible to the communities students are working with.

For some students, COVID-19 illuminated new opportunities for community engagement. Middlebury Volunteer Tutors (Midd VT) was founded during COVID to address the lack of educational support opportunities for youth in Addison County and to express “solidarity and gratitude for the deep care staff and faculty members have always given to students”. They created a network of Middlebury College students ready to support Middlebury employees’ K-12 children with tutoring services and were an important resource for the Middlebury College community during the pandemic. 

As the CCE returns to in-person programming with vaccinated populations, our Community Engagement Organizations are ready to take the lessons learned, grappling with what worked and what didn’t, from COVID-19 and build upon their traditional models to create new, exciting, and more accessible programming that encompasses the best of both worlds.

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