July 12, 2021
Published in Connecticut College Online News
By Amanda Sanders ’22

Not even a pandemic could stop Connecticut College’s Summer Civic Leaders program from doing good this year, as 13 students spent six weeks working to support a variety of local organizations.

Jordy Batista ’24 spent the first half of the summer working with fellow civic leader Annika Brown ’23 conducting research on the effects of zoning laws on wealth gaps, segregation, and misconceptions regarding home ownership for the Southeastern Connecticut Community Land Trust, which will use the research to inform future grant proposals.

“Being that this is going to be my home for the next three and a half years, I feel like being able to start now and work with the community, understand the city, and understand where I’m going is really helpful for me,” Batista said.

Summer Civic Leaders live on campus and receive a stipend of $2,000. This year’s leaders are Batista, Brown, Katie Fujimori ’23, Caroline Karakey ’23, Malissa Lindsey ’23, Mehin Mammadzada ’23, Jasity Mena ’24, Franchesca Moore ’24, Kassandra Olmedo ’23, Einstein Perez ’24, Jocelyn Pinero ’24, Ava Spitzer ’24 and Kayla Tavarez ’24.

“It was important for me to take part in the Summer Civic Leaders program because I know from what I’ve learned about global perspectives at Connecticut College that it is so so crucial to understand how issues that take place in your own community play out before you travel to a completely different country and analyze how things work abroad,” said Mammadzada, who worked in the Alliance for Living’s food pantry, where she helped to create a communal dining space to revive the sense of community lost to the pandemic. She also assisted with their Syringe Services Program (SSP) to prevent the spread of HIV in the New London community, working to prevent harm, and promote educational resources and mental health treatment.

Funded in part by the Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, as well as Connecticut College’s Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy, President’s Office, and Office of the Dean of the College, Summer Civic Leaders aims to develop sustained civic engagement and partnership in New London. The six-week program includes an intensive orientation and weekly seminar on ethical and equity-minded community engagement led by Holleran Center faculty and staff, a five-week internship with a community partner site, weekly reflection sessions with Holleran Center team members, assignments, readings, and formal presentation to community partners and funders, as well as field trips and volunteer work ranging from a FRESH work day to a scavenger hunt in downtown New London.

The program culminated in a final presentation by the students on July 1, during which they shared what they had learned over the course of their internships.

Lindsey, Moore and Pinero worked with New London’s Youth Affairs and Recreation departments to provide job and leadership training for young people in the community. They also created a video on the impact of a National Recreation and Park Association grant to promote access to healthy food for New London residents, which allowed the Recreation Department to host events and education programs about healthy food.

Karakey, Perez and Olmedo assisted the New London Homeless Hospitality Center (NLHCC) with its Unite CT project, as part of the CARES Act. They acted as translators and aided with outreach by creating content for organizations, including the New London Library and Mohegan Sun, to share and promote on their social media platforms.

Fujimori, Mena, Spitzer and Tavarez worked with FRESH New London to contribute to the community gardens through planting and transforming older greenhouse spaces into fresh gardens.

“One of my takeaways was how important it is to work with the community and not just for the community,” said Mena. “I got to reflect more on how one’s social position—like their culture and status and class—can affect or influence someone’s relationship with food.”

The Summer Civic Leaders also volunteered at the College’s 14th Annual Walk to End Homelessness, a fundraising event for the NLHCC. The event, which is organized by the Holleran Center and the NLHCC, drew 110 walkers and raised over $20,000. Connecticut College President Katherine Bergeron spoke at the event, which also included remarks by New London Mayor Michael E. Passero ’79 M’89 and NLHCC Director Cathy Zall.