The Jewett Center for Community Partnerships (JCCP) is the home of community engagement at Wesleyan University. Guided by the principles of mutual respect and collective responsibility, the JCCP focuses on developing and maintaining local partnerships with schools, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and the community at large. The JCCP is home to the Office for Community Service (OCS) which is committed to engaging and learning with others to build and strengthen our shared community by providing opportunities for Wesleyan students to volunteer their time and talent with student-run service programs, Middletown community agencies and through work-study positions in the office. The OCS currently has 22 active student groups that engage volunteers in community service in the greater Middletown area. Groups work in a variety of fields, from education to food justice to environmentalism. We caught up with a few of the OCS Student Coordinators to learn more about their programs, and the everyday work that they do to support their volunteers.
Emily McEvoy ‘22 she/her – College of Social Studies and Sociology
Although this might sound broad, we feel like we can honestly say that WesNEAT’s mission and activities are focused on building solidarity with the people of Middletown. We seek to help meet the needs of the community as expressed by the community, and we also work on education within the student body on why “town-gown” consciousness is so important from our positionality. This manifests in us supporting mutual aid through WesShop donation drives and wealth redistribution campaigns, creating social media series that detail Middletown-Wesleyan history, and running a youth organizing program that we are designing in collaboration with 10 Middletown High School students. WesNEAT formed to help support the North End Action Team by being a presence in their office at 654 Main Street, where Wesleyan students could help answer questions about community programming and social services. Although we can no longer do this in-person engagement due to COVID, we still find so much meaning in our relationships with members of the NEAT board, who are steeped in the history of local community organizing, as well as the legacy of NEAT itself as a place that facilitated grassroots community leadership.
Noah Kline ‘21 he/him- American Studies
When I was a first year, I was lucky to learn from two campus organizers named Vera Benkoil ‘18 and Angel Martin ‘19, who had built strong relationships with members of the North End Action Team board. They showed me how crucial it is to do work that benefits the whole community, not just those in the Wesleyan bubble. Vera and Angel dreamed up WesNEAT with Cookie Quinones of the NEAT board as a way for NEAT to harness the power of Wesleyan student volunteers. In our first year, we staffed the NEAT office on Main Street and answered phones, but over the years, I’ve watched this group flourish as we’ve gotten more in sync with the organizing work happening in Middletown. The work that we do today addresses a broader range of Middletown issues than when I first started, and I am so excited to see how the newer members of our group find new forms of solidarity with Middletown residents in the coming years.
We are always looking to bring new members into the fold, and anyone with a passion for community work is welcome in WesNEAT. Currently, most of our work for new members involves research on Wesleyan and Middletown history for social media posts. Students with an interest in education and youth work should reach out as well, we have ample opportunities in our youth program for people to do curriculum development and grant writing. Feel free to reach out to any one of us (email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) to get looped into our listserv and groupme, which is where we do most of our communication.
Clare Brennan ’21 she/her- Spanish and Anthropology
Civic engagement now looks like zoom meetings galore. We spend about 3 to 4 hours a week on Zoom together talking about everything from graphic design to the pedagogy of community organizing. We also learn a lot from the members of the WesNEAT community (both students and non-students) who participate in Middletown Mutual Aid, because we can always lend a helping hand to this system that works to directly meet people’s needs in town. Every day, Wes students bring food and toiletries from WeShop and Usdan to the houses of 2 WesNEAT students, and we use our relationships with our community partners to get these goods driven down to the Community Fridge at 33 Ferry Street. Wesleyan students are also always around to make calls to folks in the Mutual Aid network to help spread information about our Cash Assistance program. While we encourage students to think about how they are here in this community temporarily, we encourage the approach to our work to look like redistribution of time, labor, resources, energy, and skills.
Tara Nair ‘21 she/her- CSS Major, EDST Minor
Julia’s Star is a program that works with Middletown elementary schools for diversity and equity education. The group was formed in memory of Johanna Justin-Jinich, who was killed in an antisemetic hate crime on Wesleyan’s campus. Johanna had written a book called Julia’s Star in her childhood about the injurious effects of intolerance.
I got involved at the end of my Freshman year, responding to the previous coordinators call for volunteers, and have been coordinating Julia’s Star since Sophomore year. I’m incredibly passionate about making educational spaces of care and inclusion, especially for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ folks who often don’t have the same level of support and face microaggressions and marginalization in their day to day. Being involved in Julia’s Star was an amazing way for me to use my time at Wesleyan to educate myself on diversity education, and be involved in education equity in the campus and Middletown Community.
We’re working on creating a digital version of the book and an activity pack for children to do on their own! We’re also hoping to work with other JCCP groups going forward to ensure the institutional longevity of the program.
Individual Tutoring Program
Daniela Alvarez ‘21 she/her – Neuroscience and Behavior, French
My name is Daniela Alvarez and I am an Individual Tutoring Program Coordinator. My pronouns are she/her, I’m class of ’21, and I’m double majoring in Neuroscience and Behavior as well as French.
The Individual Tutoring Program serves to pair Middletown youth (K-12) with Wesleyan tutors. The tutoring is free for families, but students can volunteer or get paid if they are Federal Work Study. It’s minimal commitment, we ask for only 1 hr minimum weekly, but you can tutor as many hours as you want! If you’re interested in becoming a tutor, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org!
I became involved because I was looking for flexible job opportunities on campus and to give back to the community. Through the program I’ve learned some surprising stats about Middletown literacy standards and inequalities. After tutoring in English, I soon began teaching tennis to my tutee as well! I think this is a super fun way to build relationships with kids nearby, and they really appreciate it!
We tutor in a variety of subjects, and we typically had in-person tutoring around campus (Exley, Olin, OCS Lounge, etc) but because of COVID our services have moved completely online. Our tutors help via different online platforms, but the most common one is Zoom. A lot of families have been requesting tutoring services; I think online learning has had a significant toll on families and learning styles.