Wesleyan students from a range of majors and interests – all with shared interests in utilizing resources in innovative ways to positively impact the greater Middletown community – applied to the Student Innovation Fund. The fund provided up to $750 for projects that prioritized:
- Collaboration between student groups, faculty/staff, and/or community partners.
- Investigation of the impact of our civic engagement efforts.
- Sharing of ideas and learnings in civic engagement on campus and beyond.
Sophie Williamson ’22, Nyaiah Lamb ’21, Sam Kurlender ’22, Abigail Maymi ’22, and Emma Powell ’21 coordinate Traverse Square:
Traverse Square has always been more than a tutoring service for children living in the housing complex next to hi-low rise. It has been a place for Wesleyan Students to make lasting connections and a bridge between Wesleyan and the Traverse Square Community. COVID-19 threw our program into disarray and it heightened the need for better communication with the students and their caregivers. During the forced break we started to reimagine what our program could look like. Traverse Square always had strong activism and advocacy implicitly in the program and scores of previous coordinators talked about expanding the reach of the program. As we were creating our plans for the program moving forward, we wanted the program to be responsive to the needs and ideas of the community.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, we were limited in our ability to contact community members. We tried hosting zoom sessions, putting flyers in mailboxes and sending out questionnaires. We realized that in person contact would be the most effective but we had no experience with canvassing and our connections to the community were hurt by our abrupt departure last year. We used the JCCP Innovation Fund to employ two wonderful community members, Cookie and Jimmy, to advise us, help us develop a canvassing questionnaire and canvass the community.
They were able to canvass most of the Traverse Square Community and help us gain valuable feedback on our plans. They also attended other meetings with us and gave feedback on our plans from their personal experience. We learned that there was a need for a variety of programs within the community, such as STEM education and one-off information programs. We also learned there was a desire for community events, such as community dinners or community wide talent shows, that we are planning on piloting next year. The Innovation Fund allowed us to collaborate with new community partners that we will continue to work with and investigate the impact of our current program and the community’s desire from the program in the future.
Our programming provides more than just tutoring services to students living in Traverse Square. We provide mentorship, enrichment programs and a safe learning environment for the students to come to everyday. We are entirely student run which provides us direct control of the entirety of the program and allows us to work directly with the Traverse Square Community. If you are interested in becoming a tutor or learning more about our work, please contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much to Diana Martinez and the JCCP for helping us navigate through this process. We would also like to thank the JCCP for the support through the Innovation Fund that allowed us to make new connections and support community involvement in the development of our program.