Colby College students, from left, Anna Braverman, Lutie Brown and Colleen George are sworn in to testify before the Waterville Voter Registration Appeals board during a hearing in Waterville regarding voter eligibility in May 2019. Their votes were challenged by residents who opposed the plastic bag ban in Waterville. Brown has continued on since then to be elected in November 2019 the Ward 3 representative on the city Charter Commission and active in the local Democratic Party. Morning Sentinel file photo

Lutie Brown‘s Colby College experience is deeply intertwined with the the city of Waterville.

Colby students have a history of engaging with the local community through civic engagement and community partnerships. A Colby junior, Brown exemplifies this commitment with her activities in Waterville Democrats and as a former member of Waterville’s Charter Commission. The commission is convened every seven years to decide whether to revise the city charter, a local constitution that governs how the city operates, or establish a new one.

“When I came to Colby, I knew I wanted to do something civic engagement related, and within the first two weeks I found myself in a community with the Colby Democrats,” she said. “I never came to Colby some day thinking I would serve in local government where I went to college.”

Although the coronavirus pandemic altered the format of some of the college’s traditional programs, students, faculty and staff continued its relationship with the greater Waterville community.

Elizabeth Jabar, Colby College’s director of Civic Engagement and Community Partnerships. Séan Alonzo Harris

“I think it’s amazing what we’ve been able to do during the pandemic,” said Colby’s Lawry Family Director of Civic Engagement and Community Partnerships Elizabeth Jabar. “We had to make a lot of pivots and shifts that we started last summer. We knew that we had to start early.”

Through fellowships, classes and volunteer opportunities, the Colby community participated in community building efforts on and off campus. When students went home in March 2020 at the pandemic’s outset, Colby’s civic engagement team planned how to keep programs going. In recent years Colby’s partnership with the city of Waterville increased with the college’s downtown presence. The office of civic engagement and partnerships includes Jabar, two staffers and two AmeriCorps members.

Starting with orientation and up through graduation, the college works on a full slate of civic engagement programming for students throughout their Colby experience.

“We’re really moving towards a menu of opportunities and a series of discreet opportunities to a more comprehensive program model,” Jabar said.  “We’re really building this model of a program pathway.”

Established in 2019, the O’Hanian-Szostak Fellows for Civic Leadership funds up to 10 Colby students annually to pursue self-identified projects that fit an emerging community need. The goal is for the programs to continue even after the founding students graduate.

The fellowships functioned despite the pandemic. The fall semester included a lot of planning and spring brought implementation. Some projects carried on through Zoom and were done remotely.

“The fellowship is connecting their academic interest to a community need and working directly with a community partner,” Jabar said. “I’m happy to say that we were able to shift all of those projects in a way that they could still be continued, work and realized.”

A senior from Brunswick and an environmental science major, Ketty Stinson is reestablishing Waterville’s Seed Library at Waterville Public Library.

Stinson’s project is one of the 10 fellowships this academic year. It was supposed to launch last year with Stinson, a member of the class of 2020, but the pandemic derailed it. In partnership with the Waterville Public Library, Waterville Seed Library provides free access to seeds for community members and a step-by-step guide of the planting process.

“In the pandemic, I think a lot of people have been looking for ways to get outside, new hobbies or things to try, and it’s always great to have people who want that,” Stinson said. “The demand for seeds and gardening (supplies) right now is so high, and I just think that it’s great to expand the ability of people to explore things on their own. … To me, it’s a knowledge and exploring project that should be fun as well.”

A Colby senior from Wellesley, Mass., Alex Glowacky is involved with Colby Cares for Kids. Alex Glowacky

Colby students are involved in other community-facing activities, especially working with local youth.

At the beginning of the year, Colby contacted the Waterville Public Schools about potential learning loss during the pandemic. The college trained 25 student volunteers to work with Waterville students in a virtual drop-in tutoring program offered to students in all grades. The 20-year-old Colby Cares about Kids mentorship program, which Colby senior Alex Glowacky is a part of, remains popular. Colby students work with students of all grades at schools in Waterville and the surrounding area.

This year, Colby student mentors are writing letters to students and students are writing back. Some are calling through video.

“My favorite part has honestly been watching my mentee grow up,” Glowacky said. “I started working with her in third grade and now she’s in sixth grade. It’s been wonderful to have that time, be present and really connect with her.”

A senior from Wellesley, Massachusetts, Glowacky is a Colby Cares About Kids Mentor, Center for Small Town Jewish Life leader and member of the Civic Engagement Student Advisory Committee.

The committee encompasses a broad representation of students across various civic engagement initiatives. They meet twice weekly to evaluate how the engagement serves local community.

“Something we’ve talked about a lot is how to get students involved in civic engagement early in their Colby experience,” Glowacky said. “It’s building that initial contact in a way that attracts students’ previous interests in something that they’re interested in exploring, and how to expand that long-term in civic engagement at Colby. It’s also the long-term aspect for the community.”

While vaccination rates rise and the college looks toward the fall, Jabar hopes Colby’s civic engagement offerings trend back to more hands-on opportunities. There will likely be a reintegration period before partnerships go back to pre-pandemic formats.

“Obviously everyone will take their (cues) from the state and federal guidelines in terms of how many people can gather, but that will be part of our work in the summer,” Jabar said. “We need to sit with (partners) again to understand where they’re going over the summer.”

Colby College junior Lutie Brown is heavily involved in local politics. Madeleine Morlet

A double-major in classical civilization and English, Brown is a Colby Votes Fellow, Maine Student Votes Fellow and will serve as residence hall staff in the downtown Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons next year.

Brown will be one of the 200 Colby juniors and seniors living at the Commons who are required to participate in civic engagement initiatives. Students take a “living in community” seminar exploring what it means to be an active citizen in Waterville and are required to engage in a 30-hour per semester civic commitment through the fellowship, volunteering, projects and other ways.

“These are really committed students who are interested in pursuing the pathway of exploring public relevance of their discipline,” said Jabar, who also lives and works in the Commons, “and really learning what it means to live in the community and be a contributing community member in Waterville.”

As a senior next year, Brown plans on continuing her involvement with Colby’s Best Buddies program, Colby Votes and her work in Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s office.

“I’ve learned so much from my time being involved in local politics here in Waterville,” Brown said. “There’s a great support network here and you learn so much from jumping in and diving right in head first. It’s a really supportive community, and with every challenge along the way, there are going to be rock stars and cheerleaders to help get you through it.”

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