One of the most rewarding aspects of my work is meeting community leaders and building relationships with dozens of community partners. I enjoy getting to know them and learning about the program, their vision and mission. Together we consider the needs and opportunities for UMass students to participate in and support those programs. The connection is one of mutuality and reciprocity. It;s my goal not to have any one way streets, where the university taking from the community and students “help” in a way that satisfies their need to feel good. I’m looking for the campus – community partnership to make new connections, break down stereotypes and build relationships. Bringing the community leaders together with UMass faculty members and identifying ways to connect the students’ community service to both the community partner’s goals and to the learning objectives of the courses is incredibly rewarding.
You could say that I’m a campus – community matchmaker of sorts and honestly — I love it!
One such partner organization is the Boys’ and Girls’ Club of Greater Holyoke (HBGC). The club was founded in 1892 and provides quality programs to approximately 4000 youth in and around Holyoke. Eileen Cavanaugh is the President and Victor Rojas is the Technology Programs Director and our partnership has developed in significant ways over the past 3 years. In the Fall of 2010 one of the large General Education courses, International Education, was revised to offer a service learning opportunity to the students. Within days the 60 slots allotted for the class were filled and about 1/3 of those students did their service at HBGC. This continued with another group of students in the Spring semester and will continue next year as well. The UMass students provided support in a number of programs including homework help and tutoring in the computer room to support skill development and they serve as college positive mentors.