WATERVILLE — Colby College junior Matt Reasor remembers the excitement he felt when applying to live in the new Bill and Joan Alfond Main Street Commons downtown.

The application asked questions about how he viewed civic engagement, how it would fit into his role as a student, and what he could bring to the table by living downtown.

The 21-year-old Clarksville, Tennessee, resident had already spent time out in the community, mentoring a child at Benton Elementary School for two years as part of the Colby Cares About Kids program. He also loves the downtown, where, as a freshman and sophomore, he often studied at Selah Tea, a cafe on Main Street that reminds him of a favorite coffeehouse in Clarksville.

“The whole downtown is similar to the downtown in my hometown,” Reasor said. “It was something that was really comforting to me. It reminded me of home.”

A psychology and anthropology major, Reasor had been involved in civic engagement as a high school student, serving as president and secretary of a club that worked in that area. When the opportunity to become a part of the Colby program presented itself, he knew it would be a good fit for him.

“I also was really excited. It felt more grown up having an apartment and having the responsibility of managing my time better,” he said.


Reasor, who plays baseball at Colby, is one of a handful of community advisors, also known as CAs, who work as resident assistants. He also is a Colby Outdoor Orientation Trip advisor who takes first-year students on outdoor trips as a way to build relationships.

Reasor is one of several students and faculty members who already have moved into the $25.5 million mixed-use residential complex Colby built at 150 Main St. On Sept. 3, Labor Day, more students will move in, for a total of 197. Classes start Sept. 5.

Reasor and Colby senior Moeketsi Justice Mokobocho, who also is a CA and lives in the building, met Thursday morning in the first-floor lounge with Dean of the College Karlene Burrell-McRae; Denise Bruesewitz, assistant professor of environmental studies who is head faculty in residence at the Alfond Commons; and Ruth Jackson, Colby’s vice president for communications, to talk about the building and the Program for Engagement and Community Partnerships in which students will work with municipal departments and nonprofit organizations not only to learn and contribute, but also to help solve challenges and problems in the community, according to Burrell-McRae.

Students might take a course that has a civic engagement component from a faculty member or develop an internship with a faculty member or nonprofit, according to Burrell-McRae. They are required to take part in a civic engagement-related, non-graded, but credited seminar, she said.

A CA, faculty member and staff member will live on each floor of the building, which has 52 student and eight faculty/staff apartments. Student apartments include either four or six single-occupancy bedrooms and two bathrooms, a living area and a kitchen for students to prepare their own meals. There are academic and study spaces, including a classroom on the second floor and a reading room on the fifth floor, as well as two, two-story social lounges for students, laundry rooms, a small fitness room, and a yoga-wellness studio.

Of nearly 1,000 juniors and seniors at Colby, more than 250 applied to be part of the downtown program and 197 were chosen, according to Burrell-McRae.


Mokobocho, 22, of Lesotho, in southern Africa, is majoring in biology with a concentration in neurobiology, or the study of the brain.

“When I came to Colby I thought I was going to be a neurosurgeon, but I fell in love with cancer research, specifically after I took a cell biology class,” he said.

Like Reasor, Mokobocho also was excited to apply to live downtown and said that when Colby students first learned about the program, everyone wanted to be part of it.

“But for me, personally, I have been getting involved with my community and it has been an integral part of my life,” Mokobocho said. “In high school — it was not as systematic as this — but I’d go around helping homeless people and saving my lunch money to buy them food. For me, it has a very close-to-heart purpose.”

Mokobocho’s community involvement in the past has included a stretch as a mathematics tutor at Mount Merici School in Waterville, and he plans to continue doing that.

“In grade 11, I used to lead discussion groups in every subject,” he said. “I got so good at what I was doing, when the teachers couldn’t get concepts across, they’d give the class to me. Tutoring has been a big part of my life.”


Mokobocho said the building is beautiful, and he looks forward to being part of the program.

“It’s a great thing to have an institution like Colby in Waterville, but it’s even better if we’re engaged in the community we live in,” he said.

Both Reasor and Mokobocho are members of the a cappella group “The Colby Eight.” Mokobocho also is a member of the dance group Vuvuzela, which focuses on dances from different African regions.

Reasor said his day living downtown will start around 6 or 7 a.m. when he gets up to prepare for a 9 a.m. Spanish class on Colby’s Mayflower Hill campus, followed by classes in psychology research methods and anthropology research methods, and then a health psychology class. His classes will end around 3 p.m. when he will go to baseball practice. Then he will head to the student health center on campus where he works with a group that organizes educational displays around campus to promote mental, physical and social health. The group also hosts mandatory wellness seminars for freshmen. After that, he will study at home before going to bed around 10 p.m.

Mokobocho said he will be up at 5 or 6 a.m., attend an 8 a.m. introduction to ecology class and other classes that end at 1 p.m. unless he attends labs that end at 5 p.m. He works in the work-study information technology support program at Colby and answers emergency calls for computer-related problems. He also uses the fitness room at the Alfond Commons. Unlike Reasor, Mokobocho is a night owl, heading to bed around 2 or 3 a.m., he said.

Colby students traditionally have volunteered in the community with nonprofits and organizations such as the Waterville Public Library, Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, Alfond Youth Center, South End Teen Center and Hardy Girls Healthy Women, and will continue to do so.


Burrell-McRae said Colby has been awarded two AmeriCorps volunteers who will be working on all civic engagement activities.

“They will spend part of the time down here and part on campus,” she said.


Bruesewitz, the head faculty in residence at Alfond Commons, is one of four instructors living in the building. As part of her job, she will teach, run the full residence program and work with faculty, CAs, area residence directors and students and talk about how they can create a healthy community among those who live in the building. She will focus on how to help faculty members engage with the community, which could involve working in a classroom or with a nonprofit or doing a project with a community partner. She also will look at how to bring faculty expertise into the community and work collaboratively, which is something faculty have done before.

As part of a program on ecosystem ecology, Bruesewitz’s students will study streams in Waterville.

“We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things — microplastic, pharmaceuticals and garbage, stream health, insects that live in the streams, response to storms,” she said. “It allows students to apply science they have learned to a local issue or question.”


Bruesewitz and her husband, Tom Klepach, also a Colby instructor, live in the building with their children, Isla, 6, and, Roa, 8, and their dog, Mrs. Frisbee, a brown and black Boston Terrier. The family owns a house in Waterville, but were thrilled to be part of the program and live downtown. They have rented out their home.

“My husband and I believe in civic engagement,” Bruesewitz said. “For us, it seemed like a great chance to come and be a part of it.”

Isla, who with her brother, attends the George J. Mitchell School, spoke this summer at a City Council meeting to advocate for making repairs to the municipal pool on North Street.

Bruesewitz said she and her family, as well as students, faculty and staff, are happy to be part of the downtown.

“I think a lot of us can feel the excitement and curiosity of the community,” she said. “I was looking out of the window, and people on the street were waving. It’s fun. You feel a sense of excitement.”

Burrell-McRae said Colby is part of the community, and students and staff feel a responsibility as community members.


“We need to sort of build bridges and build partnerships so we have patience and grace,” she said.

Community organizations Burrell-McRae has been meeting with over the last year to discuss partnerships will meet again next week at the building before students arrive.

A ribbon cutting for Alfond Commons will be held at 10 a.m. Sept. 6 followed by a reception and building tours, according to Jackson.

Meanwhile, starting in October, the City Council, planning board and other groups will be using the Chace Community Forum in the northeast corner of Alfond Commons for meetings and activities, since the council on Tuesday voted 6-0 to approve holding meetings there.

City Manager Michael Roy said this week that currently the city pays The Center at 93 Main St. $22,300 annually to rent space for not only council and planning board meetings, but also for the planning, code enforcement and city engineer offices. When the city starts meeting at the Chace Community Forum there will be no cost to the city.

Those offices will move next month to various places in City Hall as The Center is being vacated in preparation for an art and film center to be developed there. Roy said the city has no municipal meeting room adequate to house council, planning and other meetings.


The spacious Chace Community Forum in the Alfond Commons has a public entrance off Main Street. Camden National Bank is expected to move into the south end of the building this fall, according to Jackson. She said Colby is working to identify retail tenants for part of the ground floor.

“We’re trying to find retailers that complement what exists on Main Street,” she said. “That takes curation, and we’re working on talking to folks about possibilities. It’s going to happen. It’s the only brand new retail that exists on Main Street, so it opens possibilities.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247


Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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