“Grateful,” “empowered,” “energized,” “hopeful,” “fulfilled,” are just a few of the words students in Kelly Hamshaw’s Community Action Toolbox course used to describe how they felt at the end of their last class of the semester.
Offered for the first time this spring with grant support from the Community Development Higher Education Collaborative, the course was designed to give students the opportunity to explore their identities as community-engaged citizens through community service. After spending the first half of the semester reflecting upon their community leadership values, strengths and experiences, the students were preparing to begin their community engagement projects throughout Burlington when they received the news that they would be transitioning to remote instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We adapted and asked ourselves, ‘What are the kind, creative and compassionate things we can do that don’t require time from other partners and people, and can be done in a safe, socially distanced way?’,” said Hamshaw. Instead of volunteering in Burlington, students adapted their projects to respond to needs within their home communities.
Community and international development major Ally Kilcoyne '20 documented the various ways students embraced their creativity, while making meaningful connections with their classmates and in their communities. Expore a few of the projects below.
Since the start of the outbreak, Grace Doherty ’21 has been working on the front lines as a cashier for City Market, a community-owned grocery store in downtown Burlington. For her project, she sought to document the lives of her fellow essential workers, both on and off the floor. She discovered that her colleagues shared feelings of sadness and anxiety, but that there were also many reasons to be hopeful and proud of how the store was adapting. “I have been including flowers in my daily outfits and trying to have them up around my register,” said Doherty. “I think it’s important to be candid about the struggle, but also show pockets of joy as well.”
Brett Koslowsky ’20 and Rebecca Nottonson ’20 teamed up to create 90 pieces of artwork for the residents of Porter Rehabilitation and Nursing in Middlebury, VT, which has been on lockdown since the start of the pandemic. “We wanted to do something to cheer them up,” said Nottonson, whose mother administers the nursing home. “Many of the things we find solace in, like a walk outside or cooking from scratch, they are unable to do. We wanted to bring little bits of nature, of happy experiences, to each resident’s wall so they can have a little bit more color in their lives right now.”
Lucy Mulvihill '22 collected stories and photos documenting how citizens and businesses in her home town of Evanstown, IL were staying hopeful during COVID-19. “From stadium sized food pantries to campaigns to support local businesses, I got to see a lot of leadership practices and adaptations taking place,” said Mulvihill. Through her research, she came upon an opportunity to volunteer for a Chicago-based organization, My Block, My Hood, My City, through which she participated in phone banking to assess the needs of senior citizens in her community.
Jessie Nicieza ’20, Hannah Shoshan ’20, and Elizabeth Palmer ’20 are part of a group of students who met virtually each Friday for socially distanced crafting sessions. Together, they created signage, thank you notes and artwork to honor essential frontline workers in their communities. “Overall, the craft sessions were a great example of how community work isn’t just about providing services but it’s about building social capital, too,” said Palmer, who took the project further by learning how to sew. After hearing that the guards at a nearby prison were without proper personal protective equipment, she drew upon lessons from her Sustainable Fashion course to make masks for them.
For her project, Gillian Gallagher ‘20 decided to reconnect to her love of drawing and art. The civil engineering major left sidewalk chalk drawings around Burlington bringing cheer to all who passed by. From illustrations of favorite cartoon characters to a tribute to her fellow graduates in the College of Engineering and Math Sciences, Gallagher says she received a lot of positive feedback and enjoyed opportunities to connect with people through her drawings. “It’s so much fun to do and it’s great to see how big of an impact you can make by doing something as small as drawing with chalk,” she says.
After relocating home to New Hampshire, Lyndsey Parrott ’21 noticed the additional challenges that students in her sister’s high school Spanish class were facing trying to learn a language remotely. Parrott decided to put her Spanish skills to use offering tutoring support and providing a virtual guest lecture on the vulnerabilities of migrant farmworkers amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. “It was a great opportunity to reconnect with my high school teachers and teach them about a topic they probably don’t know a lot about,” said Parrott. Her project led to an opportunity working for the school as a substitute teacher this summer.
Public communication major Rebecca Poretsky ’21 used her advertising and communications skills to help support local food vendors and businesses in her community of Northborough, MA who were being impacted by the cancellation of the town’s farmer’s market. Poretsky sought to create a virtual marketplace using the Town Common’s Facebook page where she has been posting information about each of the vendors and how to support them. “A lot of the information isn’t out there because businesses have so much going on,” said Poretsky. “I’m doing my best to make people aware of these businesses and motivate people to buy from them.
“The semester obviously did not go as expected and we had to change our plans for the community engagement portion of the class, but I would not trade this experience for the world. The adaptations of our team and students really speaks to the power of resilience within our communities,” said Nicieza, who participated in the Friday morning virtual crafting sessions and served as a teaching assistant for the course.
“This experience of disruption underscored one of the main learning objectives of the class: the importance of cultivating connections within our communities. It’s truly been a privilege to witness our students dig in with compassion, creativity, and resilience. They’ve been such a source of joy for me as a teacher during this most unusual semester,” said Hamshaw.