August 28, 2006
Director of Media Relations

AMHERST, Mass.—At Amherst College 35 first-year students, 10 student trip leaders, and two trip coordinators will take part 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, presentations and 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. On Friday, Sept. 1, all 45 trip leaders and participants, with Amherst College Outreach Office staff Scott Laidlaw, Karen M. Lee and Maggie Mattaini ’09 and Jen Roberge ’07, the student trip coordinators, 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.

Each afternoon, small groups of students will head to a variety of sites in the Holyoke area—such as the YMCA, the Food Bank Farm, Soldiers’ Home, Habitat for Humanity, Girls Inc., Providence Ministries 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 and hosting an ice cream social for war veterans.

The trip aims to introduce new students to Holyoke as an example of a dynamic community coming together and working creatively to address its problems. Within the context of Holyoke, students will engage in dialogue about the relationship of college students with communities in need and explore how students can be involved in these communities with mutual respect, commitment and beneficence.

Fifteen miles south of Amherst, Holyoke was the first planned city in the U.S. and once a thriving industrial center. The city experienced a major economic downturn between 1945 and the 1970s due to deindustrialization. Along with the closure of factories and mills came significant job losses and major economic and social hardships. According to a census in 2000, Holyoke is one of the poorest cities in Massachusetts, and the median household income is $30,441.

In the summer Amherst College received a philanthropic investment of more than $13 million from the Argosy Foundation to establish a Center for Community Engagement, which, says Anthony W. Marx, the president of the college, “will encourage the integration of ideals and action by drawing hundreds of Amherst students into community service through linked curricular and co-curricular programs. Amherst aims to graduate thoughtful and active citizens—men and women who not only care deeply about the pressing problems facing our society today, but also have the skills, experience and determination to create positive change in their communities.” Noting Amherst’s long history of support for a range of nonprofits in the Pioneer Valley, Marx added, “We are all enthusiastic at the prospect of strengthening Amherst's partnerships with organizations serving our community and of forging new relationships with nonprofits further afield. Our students are eager to learn from those who have dedicated their lives to serving others.”

Last year, one in four Amherst students volunteered locally as mentors or tutors to children in area public schools, at domestic-violence prevention programs, hospitals and other valuable community organizations.

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.