Vocation, Capacity, and Community

When I talk about vocation with students, I often describe it as the overlap between what you want and are equipped to do and what your communities need. After all, active citizenship, the guiding model of our office, is about prioritizing community in your values and life choices. It is through this lens of vocation that I am so excited about our funded local internships.
Through the generous support of the Parents Fund, the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) has been able to offer five internships since summer 2016 which address the capacity needs of local community organizations while providing amazing growth opportunities for the student interns. You can read about the experiences of all five interns, but here are a few highlights: Ashleigh Arrington sharpened her media skills by creating video trainings for Literacy for Life volunteers. Nick Adjami took responsibility for the Power of Produce Club at the Williamsburg Farmers Market, crafting creative ways for kids to learn about fruits and vegetables. Kassandra Smith applied her Environmental Science knowledge to develop curriculum for Waller Mill Park which educates visitors about healthy water systems.
This spring we are offering four more internships. Selected interns will serve 100 hours and receive a $1,000 grant for their work. Students must apply by January 30, 2017.
 Our spring internships are:
  • Willliamsburg Farmers Market Power of Produce Intern
  • City of Williamsburg Neighborhood Response Team Intern
  • Virginia Legacy Soccer Community Partnerships Site Intern
  • Williamsburg Faith In Action Volunteer Programming Intern
We were pleasantly overwhelmed by internship opportunities from the local community and are hopeful we can expand the program in the future. For now, students interested other community internships can email me so we can discuss the many other opportunities we weren’t able to fund this spring (like working with Heritage Humane Society, marketing projects with Literacy for Life or Family Focus, fundraising with Colonial Heritage Foundation, research with Community Housing Partners, or developing a summer meals program with Salvation Army to name a few).
Where do your talents and interests meet the needs of community?
-Elizabeth Miller, Assistant Director OCE

In Solidarity with You

Melody PorterSo many times when people talk about “community engagement,” we mean that community – the one off campus. The one made up of the children we tutor, the neighbors whose homes we repair, the citizens whose voices we listen to in city council meetings. So it can be easy to fall into thinking that our role as staff and students in the Office of Community Engagement is to go from campus, out to the community, and back again.

But for the past eighteen months, due to the publicizing of racism and injustice in our country and on campus, I have been thinking about community engagement differently. Community is found anywhere you share space, goals, or common interests with other people. Community is right here on campus, as much as (and perhaps more intimately than) it is in those places we volunteer and advocate. The family you talk with every week as you drop off meals, the grandmother waiting in line behind you at the Food Lion, and the person down the dorm hallway from you with whom you only exchange pleasantries: all these people are part of our community.

That means that for me, and for our office, we should focus on building active citizenship and a just society here on campus as much as in Williamsburg and globally. When we plan projects with community members, we begin by building relationships, and by learning about people’s stories, deep desires, and plans to reach their goals. We learn about the issues they’re facing by asking, and by doing our own homework through reading, watching, and listening. We gain needed skills, whether it’s how to drive a nail or the basics of community organizing. We ask how things are going and what we can be doing differently. And we maintain those relationships like we do with any friend – little check-ins and continuing to get together over time.

The fundamentals of this work are no different when it’s happening on campus. But on campus, many of us – most often, those of us in the majority or dominant culture – presume that we already are a community. That there are no divides to be bridged through listening, learning, and skill-building, because we already are “One Tribe, One Family.”

What so many on this campus know and live, however, is that we do experience division. We may share some ideals as One Tribe, but the experiences of students, staff and faculty of color, people who do not identify as male, those who are part of the LGBTQ community, and many more people – those experiences illuminate divides of privilege, prejudice, stereotype, and threat.

Since I took on the role of Director of the OCE last semester, I’ve been listening and learning to our community carefully for ways we can make our office and the campus environment more welcoming to everyone.

One thing I’ve learned: I’ve been assuming that everyone on campus knows that the OCE is a place for all. It’s an easy assumption for me, because my privilege means that I experience most places as welcoming. But I know that many of you actually don’t find open arms and big smiles everywhere you go.

And so I say this plainly, without assumptions: please know that we want to offer you solidarity and welcome here in the OCE. That goes for me, and for all of our staff. However you identify and wherever your path has taken you and is headed, we want to know what you need from us to be in true solidarity with you. We want to learn more about what you are up to, and to help you find partners in the work for justice, on campus and off. There is safe and expansive space here for you. In fact, we can’t build community, catalyze active citizenship, and create more opportunity for all without you.

We continue to expand our broad outreach through projects and programs that address issues of division and injustice on campus and off. But just as important, we want to know you and stand by you. To have coffee dates (just ask! mcporter@wm.edu), conversations after service that get below the surface to issues that are brewing in our own lives, and ways to help you connect your experience in community – no matter where that community is – to what you’re learning and what you’d like to do next.