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College student collects community supper stories

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College’s entrepreneurial education program MIDDCore, which started out as a one-month winter term course, is rapidly growing. This year the program has expanded to include a four-week immersive summer session at Sierra Nevada College on Lake Tahoe in Nevada.
Closer to home, several Middlebury students who have completed a MIDDCore course have stayed in Vermont for the summer as “MIDDCore Plus Summer Interns.” The interns are matched with local start-ups, established firms or nonprofit organizations for an eight-week, project-based work experience combined with a pre-determined personal or professional challenge, using the skills learned from their MIDDCore courses.
One such intern is Cate Costley, a rising junior from Williamstown, Mass., who has been matched with the Middlebury Community Care Coalition, or MCCC, which organizes free community lunches from Monday through Thursday and free community suppers on Fridays.
Costley, in addition to serving at all community meals throughout her internship (as she has done once a week since the middle of her freshman year, when she attended her first community supper, an event sponsored by her residential commons), has challenged herself to collect and share profiles of the individuals that regularly attend the lunches and suppers.
“My work is half hands-on work, serving supper, and really getting to know the people that are coming to eat and the people who are volunteering,” Costley explains. “And then the more MIDDCore aspect of it is thinking about how I’ve come to value and enjoy my time at MCCC, but how could I share this story with more people? How could I get more people involved and raise awareness? There is a very big spectrum of people in this community.”
She has observed that MCCC suppers, far from displaying economic or social stratification in the Addison County community, actually bring people from all walks of life together into one room, where they share stories and parts of themselves over a meal.
“Dottie (Neuberger), the coordinator, her mantra is that we never say no,” Costley explains. “Whatever question is asked, whatever the person is looking for … it’s this constant gauging of what someone needs. Often, guests who arrive have been told ‘no’ a lot in other places. So this is a time to come together.”
That positive atmosphere creates a safe, fun space where people are comfortable sharing, talking and being themselves. The community bonding, as well as the tales shared over the table, inspired Costley to want to bring the stories to a wider audience. She wants to show people that every day, for two hours, something special happens.
“The door is always open, and they are always looking for more people to help out, more people to eat, people to come. It’s really fun.”
Over the course of the summer, Costley will be collecting stories and experimenting with ways to distribute them to the broader Middlebury and Addison County communities. She is considering websites, brochures, booklets and newspaper articles.
Stay tuned. 

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