Community Built through Civic Engagement
VHEC’s AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program, which falls under Vermont Campus Compact, focuses on improving college access and success for first generation, low-income, and underrepresented students in Vermont. VHEC currently has seven 2017-18 VISTA members serving in a variety of offices at five different campuses around Vermont.
Written by Liv Numa. Liv is a VISTA at the University of Vermont's Dewey Collective Learning Community.
As an undergrad at the University of Vermont (UVM), I took on many roles to engage with students. I was a teaching assistant, orientation leader, and resident advisor. When I was nearing the end of my senior year at UVM, I heard about the AmeriCorps VISTA position as the Program Coordinator for the Dewey Collective for Community Engagement. I had heard nothing but amazing things about the Dewey Collective, so applying for this position was a no brainer: I wanted to work with students, I love UVM, and I am passionate about civic engagement.
The Dewey Collective is a small, service learning and social justice focused community. It gives residents the opportunity to create socially just change through service, learning, and leadership. The Dewey Collective is a diverse group of students, first years to seniors, who work with over 30 local community and campus partners to make positive contributions through actions of civic engagement. First year students take a one-credit class fall and spring semester that supports growing their strengths and finding direction as a change-maker, and building relationships with community partners that often last their entire college career.
Residential Dewey students have a community engagement requirement of 50 hours for the year. What students do with that is entirely up to them, and amazing to see. I work with student leaders and resident advisors to plan weekly events, called crews and forums. Crews are community engagement activities, such as cooking a meal for the Committee on Temporary Shelter (COTS) or volunteering with kids at the Sara Holbrook Community Center. Forums are more educationally focused, such as having a conversation about women’s rights or watching a documentary on homelessness. These events are one way students can fulfill their hours, but most—if not all—find their own ways to be involved in the community and find long-term partners to volunteer with.
Each month we program around a social issue theme, giving students the opportunity to get involved with issues that they care about, as well as learning about issues they may know nothing about. Our themes have included: women’s rights, immigration, hunger and homelessness, racism, mental health, and youth mentorship.
The first event I planned was getting volunteers for the Pride Parade. Out of about 55 residential Dewey students, almost 30 volunteered. On another occasion, we planned a documentary and discussion night about homelessness and ordered a few pizzas, expecting maybe 10 to 15 students. Almost 45 students showed up. Towards the end of the first semester, one of our student leaders and I planned a crew for cooking a meal at the COTS day station. It was pretty early on a Saturday morning, so I wasn’t expecting a big turnout. Well, so many people showed up we ran out of tasks for people! It was amazing to see these students who decided they wanted to wake up early on a weekend to do something for their local community.
Getting students involved in the Burlington and UVM communities through service helps them feel connected to these places and build connections with each other. Ultimately, this helps them stay engaged and remain a part of the UVM community as students. When I was an undergrad, I lacked this sense of community my first year, and thought seriously about transferring. In the end, I found community through my queer identity, clubs, and my classes once I switched into a major that I was happy with. If I had been a part of a community like the Dewey Collective, I know I would have felt at home from the start.