By Katherine Duke '05
At a luncheon in O’Connor Commons on July 29, the Center for Community Engagement celebrated the completion of its 2011 Pioneer Valley Citizen Summer (PVCS), a program through which 34 Amherst students spent eight weeks as interns at a variety of local nonprofit organizations. New features of the PVCS this year included Firelight Initiative Internship Training from Pam Allyn ’84 and her leadership team at LitWorld, student-intern blogs, a Public Service Media Intern program and a day of “direct service” in Monson, Mass., cleaning up the debris from a recent tornado. The interns were also charged with developing innovations to help their organizations function more effectively—one group designed a website to help nonprofits network with each other; another group mapped out a hypothetical new bus route specifically for transportation between community outreach organizations.
Students help clean up after the June 1, 2011, tornado in Monson, Mass.
Throughout the luncheon, CCE staff and groups of interns spoke to invited guests—including the leaders of many of the nonprofits—about their summer experiences and ideas. Here’s a sampling of what they had to say:
“Amherst College’s mission is to educate students to seek, [value and] advance knowledge, to engage the world around them and to lead principled lives of consequence. And I think sometimes we think about this as kind of sequential: First you learn; then, after you learn, you go engage the world; and sometime, 50 years from now, you’ll lead a principled life of consequence. Well, in the CCE we really think of it as actually totally happening at the same time, in a linked and integrated way. So, the Pioneer Valley Citizen Summer Program is the perfect embodiment of those things happening exactly simultaneously.”
Molly Mead, director of the Center for Community Engagement
“A large purpose of the program is for students to engage in this community and understand what it means to work in the community. ... [A]long with that, another purpose is for the students to live in their own community. So the students lived in Newport together, in the same residence hall, for the last eight weeks, and many of them didn’t know each other going into it. ... I’m noticing, as the groups [of interns] come up [to give their presentations], the amount of support that they’re showing for one another. And I think this group in particular, more than past years, really took to working together as a community and living as a community.”
Ken Koopmans, manager of internship programs
“We wanted to go beyond telling other people’s stories, [training] four people who can help people tell their stories for themselves.”
Alex Speir ’11, on the Public Service Media Intern Program, a new facet of the PVCS, through which he helped teach four Amherst student interns to use multimedia techniques to document nonprofit organizations and community engagement initiatives
“One way to approach life is as though you’re juggling balls. Some balls are made of rubber—such as work—and if you drop them, they will bounce back. Some balls—such as family, health and friends—are made of glass, and if you drop them, they will shatter and may be irreparable. When you’re faced with a decision to prioritize, consider whether the issue would be a rubber ball or a glass ball.”
Yinka Fakoya ’14, presenting the closing metaphor of a student skit about how to prevent burnout while working in the nonprofit world
“This summer, I got to create a lesson plan about roller coaster physics, which culminated in a trip to Six Flags.”
Antoineen White ’13, intern with The Literacy Project
“I can say I made a real impact. Definitely, the largest impact that I had is in the next issue, the summer issue of VoiceMale magazine, I co-wrote the cover article.”
Stephen Koenig ’14, on his work as an intern with the progressive men’s magazine
“I had the opportunity to talk with a lot of students who finished classes. … Their English got much better—sometimes better than mine. I also noticed that they started to become part of this community, first at the Center, and then in the town that they lived, and then in the state. It’s really a very beautiful process in which they integrate into their society.”
Alexandre Gomez ’12, intern at the Center for New Americans
“[G]rowing up in Ohio, in the Midwest, I never had to think of land as a privilege. It was always given to me. Going to summer camp was just something that we did. And the students that I worked with every day don’t necessarily get that opportunity. And watching them grow with the land and learn with the land, being able to make sense of the world in a way that the school system or the foster care system doesn’t do, is a really inspiring thing, and I’m really proud to be a part of it.
But, I have to say, what I learned most about empowerment in my internship is that it’s a two-way process: that I hope that I’ve empowered them as much as they have empowered me as an intern for the past two summers. They’re an incredible group, and they show me every day what it means to wake up and want to make a difference in the world, whether it’s a difference in the community, whether it’s a difference in the life of one person or whether it’s a difference in their own lives, in the actions and the decisions that they make every single day.”
Amina Taylor ’13, on working with The Trustees of Reservations’ Holyoke Youth Conservation Corps