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Reflections on a Service Year at Middlebury

By Emma McDonald and Katie Carpenter

The Center for Community Engagement is hiring for two AmeriCorps VISTA positions, a Poverty Initiatives Coordinator, and a Youth and Mentoring Programs Coordinator, to serve a one-year term starting in August 2017. Emma McDonald ’16 and Katie Carpenter, who are currently serving in these roles, share about their experience so far this year and what drew them to these positions.

Emma (Poverty Initiatives Coordinator):

With graduation just a month away last spring, I wasn’t sure what I would do next. I thought first about far-away options and exciting, new places, as Middlebury students often do. But as I reflected on my experiences at Middlebury and all the opportunities I didn’t have time for (or didn’t make time for), the idea of sticking around for another year became more and more attractive.

It took me a while as a student to get outside the Middlebury “bubble.” By the time I realized how much there was to learn from the Middlebury community beyond the College, it was time to graduate. Many students figure this out before I did, but for me, another year here let me make up for lost time. Without academic responsibilities, I have had time this year to think deeply about Collegecommunity connections, to better understand the nuances in these relationships, the complexities of a liberal arts institution and what it means for Middlebury to be “the town’s college.” There is so much going on in Middlebury that many students don’t see – and adding a year of awareness to my narrow student perspective has impressed upon me how much there is to learn at Middlebury outside of the classroom.

I have learned about the complexities and sensitivities of community and higher education work. I understand better the challenges Vermont faces, and the efforts of different organizations to combat issues like hunger, homelessness and racial discrimination with skill and nuance. I have gotten to know community members working in government agencies, schools, and nonprofits, and I have seen how community meetings like the Addison County Hunger Council enhance their collaboration on important issues. I have observed staff and faculty facilitate students connecting theories from their coursework to local contexts and narratives through the Privilege & Poverty Academic Cluster, the program I help to coordinate.

I came to Middlebury for the classes, but I stayed for the community. I’ll leave knowing that I am grateful to Middlebury for both of these things. To students preparing to graduate: there is value and merit in moving on from Middlebury, but there is also promise in staying put.

Katie (Youth and Mentoring Programs Coordinator):

Unlike Emma, I didn’t go to Middlebury, so moving to the area was a new experience for me. I primarily chose to do a service year because I liked that AmeriCorps, rather than running a top-down service year program, places its members directly with agencies that plan out what the AmeriCorps member will be doing. I felt that this approach would allow me to do service that was well integrated into the organization and communities I was living and working in. I haven’t been disappointed, and through my role supporting youth and mentoring programs, I have gotten the opportunity to live in Addison County and learn about the area schools and organizations that form a network of support for children and youth. Similarly to Emma, I feel that being at meetings where organizations come together and discuss shared challenges has been a valuable learning experience for me, and has given me a sense of what a wellfunctioning professional network can look like.

Most of all, I have really loved my service year so far because of the work I’ve gotten to do. This VISTA role acts as a youth and mentoring programs coordinator for CCE-advised student organizations (like DREAM, MiddCAM,and Community Friends) and promotes College Positive Volunteerism. College Positive Volunteerism is the idea that children and youth who spend time with college students, hang out on college campuses, or talk about college with an adult role model will more easily envision themselves attending a postsecondary institution. To this end, I get to work with students who are connecting with children and teens in the area by leading after school programs, building one-to-one mentoring relationships, participating in group mentoring, running healthy food taste tests or supporting youth through their college application process. These programs give children and young people space to feel seen and heard by a caring, non-family adult, and encourage them to pursue their interests and practice decision-making. I also support these programs by connecting with professional school staff such as guidance counselors and afterschool program coordinators. Helping to facilitate these relationships being built by Middlebury College students and young people has been a deeply rewarding experience that has given me a greater sense of clarity and purpose about what I want from my professional life going forward.

To find out more about these positions and how to apply, please visit go/ middVISTA

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