Community partner appreciation breakfast connects students with community

March 6, 2020

The university partners with multiple organizations in Waltham and and in the greater Boston area for volunteer opportunities for students. A community partner breakfast, in the Shapiro Campus Center (SCC) Multipurpose Room on March 5, was held to show appreciation for the relationship between the organizations and the university students. The university also wanted to hear feedback about what it could do better to enhance their relationship. 

The idea for the collaboration breakfast was to have the voice of community partners heard and also appreciating them. Sarah Ernst ’20, Community Engagement Ambassador for Partnerships and collaboration, said, “I think sometimes the appreciation of what the community partners do goes over the heads of the students. They don’t realize the work you guys do for our programs to exist.” 

The meeting had a mix of Brandeis faculty and student representatives, as well as representatives from various volunteer groups that the university partners with. There were representatives from various groups, including English at Large, Opportunities for Inclusion, WATCH, Waltham Boys and Girls Club, Waltham Partnership for Youth, Jewish family and Children’s Services and Big Brother, Big Sister. The university representatives wanted to hear feedback and know what the organizations were doing in order to better relations between the university and community partners, said Ernst. 

“We truly value and honor our relationship; we love how they have evolved over the year,” said Lucas Malo, Director of Community Service. 

The Department of Community Service wanted to have a chance to discuss the work that is being done on campus and receive feedback on whether or not it was working for community partners, said Ernst. The department also was seeking out suggestions from the organizations present that they could adapt into their practices that the university has yet to incorporate into their training for students, said Ernst. 

The agenda for the meeting was to discuss diversity, equity and inclusion, Brandeis resources, student volunteer training and future goals of the program, according to Ernst. The representatives were encouraged to bring in suggestions and brainstorm ideas for the future of the partnership, said Ernst. 

Samantha de Melim, a community service specialist at Brandeis, asked how the various organizations incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion into their training for volunteers. 

Michael Mullins, a representative from Opportunities for Inclusion, said that volunteers are trained in diversity, equity and inclusion during their orientation, which is laid out in their rulebook. The representative from Big Brother, Big Sister, a program which pairs volunteers with children, said there is no specific training but they encourage each volunteer to show curiosity and learn from their little. 

“Being able to end the year to give back to the community partners is something that I am very excited about. Hopefully this will continue throughout future years and become a tradition at Brandeis,” said Ernst. 

Malo announced to the group that the university has released plans to create a civic and community engagement center. The proposed center would expand on the work of the Department of Community Service, the Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) and other offices across campus which are engaged in the volunteer community at Brandeis. This news comes after President Ron Liebowitz gave a university-wide presentation to all staff announcing the plans, according to Malo. There is no set timeline at this point for when construction will begin on this project, though there are new programs in the works which will be more connected to the academic side of community engagement, said Malo. 

The new center will help better align the university with campus partners, Malo said. This change comes after that the university had taken into account feedback from campus partners which had said the university was hard to navigate. The vision for the center is to bring a “one-stop shop,” according to Malo, to make navigation easier for partners. 

Mullins said, “I feel like it’s made me a much better person, working with Brandeis professionally and personally. This is a nice school and not every place has that.”

Mullins collaborates with the university to develop the Brandeis Buddies program, which is meant to connect students with adults with developmental disabilities, as described by its Brandeis page. According to Mullins, the program has grown over the years and there are now students interning at the agency to help with business and development. 

Colby Sim, a Community Service Specialist at the Department of Community Service, is the advisor to Waltham Group and supervises the Community Ambassador program. Sim said, “My favorite thing is the relationships of this community, everyone just feels so connected.”

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