August 23, 2005
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—At Amherst College, first-year students have been taking part in three-day community outreach program orientation trips for more than a decade. This fall, according to Scott Laidlaw, the director of community outreach, 39 first-year students, 10 student trip leaders, and two trip coordinators will be participating in an intense three-day, three-night trip, staying in a community center in the heart of Holyoke, where they will participate in service activities, listen to presentations and take part in interactive workshops that raise awareness about community empowerment, poverty and institutional racism. These trips are the first chance that students have to begin building relationships with non-profit organizations, community organizers and activists and educators in the Pioneer Valley. The trips, which take place from Wednesday, Aug. 31 through Saturday, Sept. 3, bring students to sites from rural Hadley to urban Holyoke, Mass.

Each afternoon, small groups of students will head to a variety of sites in the Holyoke area - such as the YMCA, the Food Bank Farms, Soldiers' Home, Habitat for Humanity, Girls Inc., Providence Ministries, Arise for Social Justice and Nuestras Raices-to learn about the organization and do service work in the community. For example, among other work, they will be building houses, painting murals, harvesting vegetables, sorting through donations at a food pantry, doing arts and crafts with underprivileged children and hosting an ice cream social for war veterans.

Anthony W. Marx, the president of Amherst College, has said, " If the great colleges and universities are to provide leaders for society, then we must inculcate service and connect it to the curriculum from the very start and build those connections throughout. Our students must be committed to serving and must learn from service about how to assess and resolve our pressing problems."

On Friday, Sept. 2, all 53 trip leaders and participants, with Amherst College Outreach Office staff Scott Laidlaw, Karen Lee-Roberts and Lisa Pistorio '07, the student trip coordinator, will work on a farm run by Nuestras Raices, an organization dedicated to community development in Holyoke, through projects relating to food, agriculture and the environment. Neustras Raices founded the farm to use the land for growing food and flowers, for local children to play and learn, and to share this land with the community so they could pass on a connection with their heritage in a space reminiscent of the fields in Puerto Rico in which they grew up-the fields where they played and learned from their parents how to plant and harvest bananas, coffee, cilantro and many more fruits, herbs and vegetables.

In addition to the work, community members and student leaders will facilitate interactive discussions, workshops and panels on such subjects such as equality in education, youth empowerment and the cycle of poverty.

Students will have a chance to talk with social entrepreneur Rosanne Haggerty, who has improved the lot of many homeless citizens of New York City since her graduation from Amherst in 1982. She is the executive director of Common Ground, an organization that restores hotels and other residences in New York and makes them available to low-income and homeless people. She will speak to first-year students at 6 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 29, in Johnson Chapel. (Her talk is not open to the public. The media are invited; call 413/542-8417 for reservations.)

Does first-year service orientation work? More than a third of last year's participants applied to be trip leaders this year. Trip participants remain involved in community work, according to surveys and anecdotal quotes from evaluations and workshops. Amherst's community partners gain immediate help and access to new recruits while they strengthen partnerships with the college.