College student volunteers have impact in the county

Every day, students at Middlebury College volunteer alongside and learn from members of the Addison County community. The relationship between community partners and college student service organizations is a symbiotic one, and the students are grateful to community members for sharing their expertise.
This past semester, we asked student organization leaders to reflect on their work. As part of our National Volunteer Week celebration, we would like to share those reflections with the community.
One organization that works closely alongside the community is Sister-to-Sister, which supports middle school girls in the Addison County area. Mentors provide an informal and comfortable environment in which to discuss common issues in life — including school, body image, peer pressure and relationships. Caroline Harrison, the club’s president and a junior at the college, has found the program to be a fun and rewarding experience.
“It has allowed me to get back in touch with what it was like to be a kid,” she said. “In our group discussions at the events, the girls really open up to us and talk to us, and that’s when you realize that in a lot of ways, 21 isn’t really so much different than 12. I think so many adults find it easy to dismiss children because of their lack of life experience, but when you actually talk to these kids, you realize they really are insightful and what they have to say is valuable.”
Another student who has built meaningful relationships in the community is Omar Valencia, a junior who served as president last fall of the college’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, which is an affiliate of the Addison County chapter. When asked why folks should join his organization, Valencia cited mutually beneficial relationships.
“I think folks should join our organization because we do go out to meet people from the local community and, certainly in my case, make meaningful and lasting relationships with people from the area,” he said. “Also, there’s just something wonderful and raw about the work that goes into building. Especially when I know that I went out and contributed to building someone’s home.”
One event that brings college students and community members together every year is the Relay for Life, during which communities walk to raise money and spread awareness for cancer research. For Kathryn Bullen, a senior and the college chapter’s president, what makes the event so special is the coming together of community.
“In one way or another, everyone is touched by cancer at some point in their lives,” she said. “Relay For Life is a great way to help raise awareness regarding cancer and honor/celebrate those who have been personally touched by the disease. At Middlebury, this organization provides an avenue for working with both the student body and surrounding community members. This experience allows people to (fight back against) a disease that often leaves people feeling powerless in their ability to help those personally affected.”
Middlebury First Responders is a new club founded last year at the college. It’s a group of students interested in emergency services. These students work with and learn from emergency medical services in the Addison County area. One of the highlights of being a member of the club is participating in an annual banquet for students and community members involved in the community’s EMS services, according to Margaret Weber, co-president of the group.
“Middlebury First Responders has taught me the importance of community support to be able to process what we see as first responders and work together to engage with our community,” she said.
As we celebrate National Volunteer Week, we want to again thank our students, staff and community partners, all of whom work together to accomplish the goals of their organizations, as well as a strong sense of volunteerism.
Editor’s note: Will DiGravio is a communications intern with the Center for Community Engagement at Middlebury College. This story was shared on behalf of Middlebury College community service organizations.

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