Last year, I happened to hear about a little start-up program through word of mouth. To my luck, it also happened to be exactly the kind of opportunity that I would find incredibly exciting and enjoyable – helping to start a community garden in a nearby neighborhood. I quickly became as involved as I could, facing some challenges and learning from them, but unfortunately, the project still fell through. Still eager to stay involved, I reflected on the program’s potential for success for the following year with the program’s leaders at the time. The eagerness I showed at this meeting started me down the path of getting a job as the head of the program for the following year – this year.
I now work as a Civic Engagement Scholar under the Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), and since it’s already been about 10 weeks on the job, I have plenty to report.
This is me in front of the Vine Neighborhood Association, my program’s community partner.
So far this year, these have been some of my activities:
- Advertising and recruiting for my program
- Examining different models of community gardens around Kalamazoo
- Communicating with potential funders about what kinds of materials we can receive for a grant
- Meeting with residents of the Vine Neighborhood to propose ideas and listen to their hopes for the garden
- Creating an outline for a grant request based on those hopes
- Reflecting about the ways in which students can maintain a positive presence while helping to organize a project in a community that they are not fully a part of. This also takes into question how students can help start a project that will sustain itself beyond student involvement.
What are the less tangible outcomes of this job? First of all, hopefully, the Vine Neighborhood Association is able to more effectively do its job of making neighborhood improvements that reflect the needs of its residents. As for myself, the benefits are innumerable. I am making connections with members of the Kalamazoo community, learning about how non-profit organizations function, gaining grant-writing experience, grappling with real issues faced by Kalamazoo and beyond, and experiencing the satisfaction of being involved in something I truly believe in.
For more on the Center for Civic Engagement, Civic Engagement Scholars, or the different programs they undertake, go to the CCE’s page at https://reason.kzoo.edu/servicelearning/.