Your first-year year hall can be a place to meet new friends, cause trouble, and make memories. Junior Jacob Kirksey’s first-year year hall, the Grassroots Community Organizing LLC, laid the foundation for Kids Are Dramatic, the organization of which he is the founder and CEO.
Kirksey noticed that students seemed to be suffocated by a long school day without an emotional outlet, and the long-time theater lover decided to take action. He founded Kids Are Dramatic as an after-school program that uses theater to help students address their emotional needs. Kirksey has grown the organization enough to bring on student interns, and finds that other CC students share his passion for involvement in the community.
Kirksey is not the only student to break out of the bubble that supposedly envelops our campus.
One well-known example is the Colorado College Community Kitchen, one of the oldest student-run kitchens in the country. Since 1992, it has served the Colorado Spring’s homeless and food-insecure communities every Sunday.
Virginia Visconti, Acting Director of the Collaborative for Community Engagement, gives a broad picture of the work CC continues to do with the surrounding community. The Collaborative grew out of the combination of the Partnership for Civic Engagement and the Center for Service and Learning, and is now the main resource for students and community members looking for mutually beneficial partnerships.
These partnerships can vary widely from a student volunteering to tutor in local schools to companies using the special skills of CC students to complete research projects. The projects and volunteer efforts are driven by community needs.
“It’s mutually beneficial. The student gets a chance to practice what’s being learned in the classroom … and the community partner ends up with the information that they need to do their work much more effectively,” said Visconti.
One such project took place when two CC students worked with the Parks and Recreation Services on GIS Mapping. The department had a large amount of data and was looking for assistance in processing data and creating the necessary maps.
In total there are 26 student organizations that work with the Collaborative.
Since coming to CC this past December, Visconti has found students to be very interested in ways to engage with the Colorado Springs. When gauging interest from the community in working with students, Visconti has continually encountered enthusiasm in her meetings.
One beneficiary of the new Collaboration is Kira Withrow, senior and site coordinator for Children’s Literacy Center at Helen Hunt Elementary. Withrow has been able to use the Collaborative, specifically meeting with K-12 coordinator Sarah Marshall, to recruit student volunteers and help to get students involved.
Withrow not only works with Helen Hunt students and oversees volunteers but also conducts pre- and post-testing to monitor the progress of students. While there are no hard numbers, Withrow has received positive feedback from teachers, parents, and students alike.
In fact, last spring Withrow worked with a fifth-grade student who began the semester at a preschool reading level and was able to improve to a second-grade reading level. “I really like the program because it builds a student’s literacy… but also you make a bond with the student. That’s the part that really made me stay,” said Withrow, who hopes to teach in Denver after graduation.
Withrow has found that many other students share her passion and interest for volunteering in local schools, but she has faced struggles with long-term commitment from students. “I would give students the advice to plan out your year in combination with the service that you want to do in the community and not just do it blockly,” said Withrow.
Even with the optimist outlook for the future between CC and the Colorado Springs community, the transition into the Collaborative for Community Engagement has not been without problems. Kirksey has had trouble with the politics of the group and sees the inconsistency in the Collaborative’s leadership as detrimental to potential student and community partnerships. Both Withrow and Kirksey felt that many CC students want to become involved, but they are unsure of how to engage.