Opinion: Why Students Should Engage With Community-Based Programs
By Isaias Martinez, Guest Columnist
Becoming college students often indicates a transition away from our original home as we immerse ourselves in the community that is our college campus. However, we often fail to realize that the college campus exists within an established community. As we come and participate within the physical space, we inevitably interact with the social and cultural atmospheres surrounding the college. In this case, we actively participate within the physical space of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and even Adams County at large. When we think about belonging to a place, a big part of that belonging should relate to the workings outside the main space in which one operates. When thinking about the college experience, we visualize this time as a temporary experience, one in which we come and go as we please. While we might take this as an excuse to not actively engage with the community, we must consider the long-standing history of the College and the ever-growing presence it has on building the community of Gettysburg.
Many aspects of the Gettysburg community already implement themselves in the lives of students, including the Farmer’s Market, Waldo’s, events on the Town Square, and many more. While these activities do denote participation within the Gettysburg community, we often fail to engage in the duality of the problems facing it. The Adams County Farmers Market alleviates food insecurity for marginalized populations within the county, and Waldo’s has served as a space of acceptance for other marginalized populations. When we belong to the community, we also have to engage with the duality of what happens around us while being students at the college.
I have had the opportunity to engage with the community surrounding Gettysburg during all four years of college, including periods of time when we were remote. I was introduced to the El Centro Program, a Center for Public Service and Spanish Department program, that serves as a fourth hour for many Spanish classes. I remember having such an amazing time during the program, even crying at the conclusion of it because of the experience I had. I tutored a child every week and watched them grow in just one semester. The children who participate at El Centro are often Latinx-identifying and attend local elementary schools. My initial perception of the Gettysburg community changed, and that led to the discovery of the whole community surrounding the campus we engage in. I kept participating in programs like El Centro because it was a meaningful experience and also made Gettysburg feel more like home. This feeling of home came from engaging with the local population and being a part of programming that helped a portion of the community. We often fail to recognize the privilege of being students, of the education and resources we receive and are exposed to during our college experience. Programs like El Centro showed me the impact that I could have as a student on the community itself. For example, the program gave homework help that works around linguistic barriers. When you continue to interact with this small part of the community, you later encounter other difficulties it faces as you continue to immerse yourself. After I started with El Centro, I had to participate in Adult ESL classes through the Center for Public Service for another Spanish department fourth hour. As I continued my involvement with the children at El Centro, I discovered a whole new part of the community I was already trying to immerse myself in. I can keep going on about the experiences I have had which have expanded my interactions with the community, including more volunteering opportunities in the Center for Public Service. Of these, I would include the summer fellowship which had me immersed within the community this past summer as a teacher’s aide at Migrant Education Summer School and helping facilitate activities at the Painted Turtle Farm & adult ESL classes. I got to know more people in the community and formed a relationship where I would teach the kids during the day and their parents in the afternoons. These families are ones that I am still connected to; they have shared their culture with me, invited me into their houses, and helped me engage within the community surrounding the college.
While my experience may not be applicable to most, there are various avenues in which a student can get involved with the community. Many other academic departments and organizations often partner with programs that contain community engagement. The Center for Public Service provides connections to a variety of programs that connect to a variety of concerns within the community. Campus Kitchen and The Gleaning Project help address food insecurity, El Centro and College Prep aid students, and SCCAP: Support Circles helps families move out of poverty. There are so many more programs that aid a variety of problems within the community that can engage both your academic and personal endeavors. I plan to have one of my capstones this semester provide some benefit to one of the programs I have participated in.
I do acknowledge that my opinion comes from the position of a student employed as a fellow at the Center for Public Service and as a person who shares a similar ethnic background to the demographic I engaged with. However, I have thought a lot about my position as a member of the Gettysburg community; I feel a sense of responsibility to engage with the duality of the community, one in which I give and take. I give the findings of my experiences within my academic journey and take experiences and the sense of belonging with the community around Gettysburg. It took me two years to decide to engage with the Center for Public Service as a student fellow, and through them I gathered consciousness as a member of Gettysburg beyond the college boundaries: physically, socially, and culturally. Community engagement can take on so many forms and can implement the variety of experiences you have within the college.
I especially urge students who are having a hard time adjusting to the change in scenery to engage within the Center for Public Service programs. I myself have found more than a sense of belonging within my participation in the programs. My engagement has allowed me to grow confidence within myself. As my role within the El Centro program has evolved from volunteer to program coordinator, I have grown as a person and student. I have found an amazing community among the students who engage within the program, the children, their parents, and the community partner. Gettysburg has become more than the dreaded small town with nothing to do besides school. I now see the people of Gettysburg: the business owners, the community activists, the student volunteers, and myself as part of the home and community I now see within Gettysburg.
This article originally appeared on pages 8 to 9 of the February 2023 edition of The Gettysburgian’s magazine.