8 Things To Look Forward To

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Today marks the end of training week for our Puentes al Futuro (Bridges to the Future) Camp Counselors. This is the third year that the Center for Community Engagement and Eastern are hosting this camp and we are so excited to have these counselors with us! 

For the past four days, they have attended workshops on: working with middle school students, how to engage English Language Learners (ELL), and how to meet a child where he/she is at in his/her academic development and guide him/her towards an academic milestone. They have spent hours putting together enrichment and elective activities for the kids to play. Many an icebreaker has been played, and there has been much reminiscing about their own childhood camp memories. 

Puentes is unlike your typical camp. Specifically tailored to at-risk ELL youth, the focus is shared between providing academic support with giving a forum for the students to develop their individual identity though exploring their cultural heritage(s). The program also runs after school sessions during the school year which families can elect to enroll their children in. Thus, Puentes allows for the kids to build meaningful relationships with the Puentes staff. The Camp Counselors, all Eastern students, are given the opportunity to volunteer in the after school program during the academic year or re-apply as Camp Counselors during the summer. The kinds of positive change that occurs in the students, whether they participate in either the camp or the after school program is incredible to watch, let alone be a part of.

So, on their last day of training, we asked a few of the Counselors what they were most excited for. Here are their responses:

  •   "As an alumna, I look forward to working with these students every summer. I can't wait to see their smiles!"
  •   "I am looking forward to getting to know the students I'll be mentoring over the summer." -Bryan
  •  "I am looking forward to the kids coming and learning new things."
  •  "I am looking forward to a great and fun experience with the kids."
  •  "I am excited to learn about the different cultural experiences that will happen over the summer."
  •  "I hope to guide the students towards finding a passion that they really love and steer the students away from negative influences."
  •   "Three days instead of two, and almost double the amount of kids that we had least year! Trained counselors ready to pour all their energy into making this camp a great experience for the kids in our community. I can't wait for the first day of camp! It is going to be great. I expect that the kids, counselors, and staff will have an unforgettable experience." -Rosie, Camp Director
  •  "I'm excited to see young people from our community growing academically through our camp while learning and exploring  their own and their friends' cultural identities." -Luis, Assistant Director of the Center for Community Engagement

Be sure to check back for some upcoming posts about what everyone at the camp is up to!  

July Opportunities with the CCE

Monday, June 24, 2013

With June quickly ending, the CCE is gearing up for July!

This last week of June is filled with training the camp counselors for the Puentes al Futuro (Bridges to the Future) summer camps which Eastern hosts. The camp is a 4-week long day camp for at-risk, ELL ELL (English Language Learner) youth in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. The kids attend either a math or language arts class in the morning and then participate in arts and crafts and tutoring sessions in the afternoon. All of the counselors are current Eastern students or alumni.
For information on how you can be a counselor for next year, email the Center for Community Engagement at cce@easternct.edu 

Tomorrow, the Connecticut Food Pantry's Mobile Truck is coming back to Willimantic for it's monthly stop. The truck comes filled with fresh produce, organic packaged foods and soups, and more to pass out to those who have limited to no access to healthy groceries in the area. We are currently accepting sign-ups for when it visits in July (July 23, 12:30-2:30pm).

Eastern's Community Education Garden is flourishing! Blueberry bushes, cantelope, and watermelon were all recently planted. Sugar peas, strawberries, and herbs have been harvested and donated to the Covenant Soup Kitchen. A dedicated group of students have been tending to the garden, but we can always do with more volunteers. Hours and days are flexible. Let us know if you want to get involved!

For information on these opportunities and how you can sign up as a volunteer, email the Center for Community Engagement at cce@easternct.edu 

Puentes al Futuro (Bridges to the Future)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Puentes al Futuro, Bridges to the Future, is a grant-funded program for at-risk youth living in Greater Windham, Connecticut. The program is sponsored by the Center for Community Engagement and is staffed by Eastern student volunteers. Below is an account from one of the Eastern volunteers about her experience: 

Puentes met on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week after the students get out of school, on Eastern’s campus as well as at Windham Middle School. Each time we met there was an opportunity to participate in an activity with the students to help them explore their culture, and then we helped them complete their homework. This past semester, on Thursdays, we studied poetry and worked on creating a Puentes-specific cook book. Talking about recipes and foods that are special to the children gave us another chance to share about ourselves and our families. It truly is amazing the type of connection that you build, even though you only spend a small portion of your week with these students. I love the way that Puentes helps students embrace and truly love their culture. The program helps students build a foundation based on understanding themselves and their heritage in order to promote their success in the future. I remember finding out when one of our Puentes students got into Windham Tech, after having applied only a few weeks earlier. Not only was everyone excited that she had chosen to tell us first, but we were so excited to see her become so thrilled about something directly related to her future. 

Guest Post: Kim, '15

What I Look Forward to When I Volunteer

Monday, June 17, 2013

The first night that I went to Lyon Manor, I expected to have a much different experience than I did.  When I heard the words ‘independent living center’, I expected the residents to need much more assistance.  I did not think that it would be so laid back and I did not realize that the residents would be able to go and come as they please.  I did not expect to terribly lose a game of chess against one resident.  I did not expect to laugh so hard that I cried.  And I certainly did not expect to form a friendship that I hold that close to my heart.
Every Tuesday I look forward to going to Lyon Manor.  I have a friend who lives there named Joanne.  She has a hard exterior and is not usually very happy.  But this past year, she and I have become so close.  Every week I bring a craft for the residents and Eastern students to do together, whenever I ask Joanne to work with me on one, she refuses because of her arthritis.  At Christmas time, I brought supplies so that the residents could make cards for their families.  This was one of the few times that Joanne agreed to do the craft; she made me a card, with a long poem about how much she loves me.  Joanne makes such an impact on my life; I cannot imagine my life without her or any of the other residents at Lyon Manor.
Recently, I went to the Impact conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It is an annual conference about community engagement and social justice.  There I was inspired to find more ways to make our time at Lyon Manor more engaging for the residents as well as the volunteers.  I plan to pair up similar students and residents to create a one-on-one friendship.  We will spend the first part of our time there one-on-one with our friends and the second part as a whole group.  I am hoping that this will make volunteers want to return every week to spend time with their friends!  During the fall 2013, we will be visiting Lyon Manor on Wednesday evenings. If you are interested e-mail: gemmaj@my.easternct.edu

-Guest Post: Jeannine, '15

Eastern's Community Education Garden Grows!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Over the past three months students, faculty, and community members have been growing fruits and vegetables for the local soup kitchen at Eastern’s Community Education Garden. Inside its white picket fence on High Street, one can find waist-high potato plants, a variety of heirloom tomatoes, sugar peas, pole beans, and strawberries. Carrot and corn shoots are beginning to peep up out of the soil. Beets, onions, and garlic are nearing a foot in height.
Recently interns from the Institute of Sustainable Energy planted watermelon. Jalapeno peppers were put in the soil with the help of Windham High School students. Sweet herbs from the Willimantic Farmer’s Market, stevia, and chocolate mint mark off the tea corner. A multifarious band of volunteers from the Eastern community come to help out: biology professors, athletic trainers, resident assistants,  and librarians. This week a Visitor’s Welcome sign is being installed to invite anyone who wishes to come in and have a look around.

Guest post: Bryan, '15

Find more pictures here!

Upcoming June Volunteer Opportunities

Monday, June 10, 2013

Looking for something new to do? Maybe you volunteered this past year and want to continue staying active. Below are some upcoming volunteer opportunities through the Center for Community Engagement!

  • Eastern's Education Garden: We are in the middle of planting watermelon, potatoes, herbs, strawberries, and more! Much of the food will be donated to the Covenant Soup Kitchen when it is ready to be picked or harvested. The garden runs solely on Eastern student volunteer support with community members and local school kids helping out periodically. You can come and go as you please and form your own hours!

  • Connecticut Food Bank's Mobile Truck: Every 4th Tuesday of the month, the Mobile Truck comes to 199 Valley Street with fresh produce and healthy food to distribute to those most in need. Volunteers help from 12:30-2:30pm with set-up and distributing the food to clients of the truck. This event is by far one of the most fun and rewarding events to be a part of!

If you're interested in getting involved in either, email Jacqui at decormierj@easternct.edu 

A Good Start to Good Habits: 3 Easy Steps to Volunteering

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Taking that first step to volunteer can seem daunting. With all of the uncertainty that comes with volunteering uncertainty- volunteer positions generally don't come with a job description- offering to do so requires looking beyond being just a volunteer to seeing that you are participating in something bigger (and better).

Volunteering can look different for everyone. What it boils down to is offering to get involved doing something you are passionate about, have fun, and make connections with others. Bonuses such as job opportunities, professional skill development, and camaraderie are a part of the package too!

If you've never volunteered before, or had a bad first experience and aren't sure if you want to try it again, here are a few quick and easy steps to finding the right volunteer match for you.

1. Find a cause or social justice issue are PASSIONATE about 
If you love environmental sustainability and maintaining a clean earth, you may not mind doing a task your less fond of if it is for the success of an awareness or fundraising event that will support this cause. Perhaps you love just lending a helping hand and being involved in a variety of things just for the fun of it. Whatever lights that fire in your belly to add volunteering to your list of priorities, pursue it!

2. Research organizations and people in your area who are following this same interest and contact them!
This can be the scariest part of all. You are calling or emailing a stranger to say "Hey! I am really interested in what you and/or your organization is doing. How can I get involved as a volunteer?" It takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there like that. But the beauty of volunteering is rarely will someone turn you away. Rejections are few and far between in the volunteering world and most people are incredibly happy to work with you. Odds are, they share the same exact passion!

Note: If a representative of an organization is rude, be wary and look for another opportunity. Volunteering should not be a one-way street but rather should be fun and a benefit to both you and the organization/group you're working with.

3. Be honest and up front with yourself and the volunteer coordinator about what you're good at and what you may want to try
Volunteering requires some self-lessness, but it is also a way for you to just do what you enjoy. Generally we like what we are good at. If you are good at event planning and like it, say so! The organization/group you're with may need extra help there. If you want to try something new such as fundraising, say so! This your chance to learn and explore. Learning how to communicate your needs, interests, and ideas will help you be better at communicating those of the populations you work with!

It may take a couple tries or you may find the perfect volunteer opportunity for you right away. Enjoy, have fun, and be proud of what you're a part of. You can never underestimate the ripple effect of your positive actions.

-Jacqui, AmeriCorps*VISTA, Center for Community Engagement