Recently, you may have heard Bryn Mawr College mentioned at several events around town.
Bryn Mawr College (BMC) was an active collaborator in the recently dedicated mural at ACLAMO Family Center. Undergrad students were on hand at the Greater Norrisown PAL Center’s day of service. More than 40 students are on their way to town to work with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. It seems more often than not, Bryn Mawr College is there to offer its support to Norristown.
So how did this relationship develop?
"The mission of the Bryn Mawr College/Norristown Community Partnership in Action (CPIA) is to build a collaborative relationship between the college and Norristown community based on a reciprocal sharing of assets and resources," said Nell Anderson, co-director of BMC's Civic Engagement Office. “The partnership was established in 2002 with the goal of connecting faculty, student scholarship, educational field placements and volunteer services with real life needs and learning opportunities in our local community.”
Putting this partnership into action gives students some great hands-on learning opportunities. As director of Praxis and community partnership programs, Anderson identifies and supports field placement opportunities at organizations like Laurel House and Fortnighters where students can apply theoretical understanding learned in the classroom to field work done in the broader community.
“One thing every student who spends time in Norristown [agrees on] is how much they learn from the community members," said Ellie Esmond, co-director of the Civic Engagement Office. "You don’t have to be a teacher to teach something to someone.”
Esmond, also the director of service and activism, oversees the Community Based Work Study Program, providing federally-subsidized employment opportunities for college students as part of their financial aid package. Through the work study program, students have held positions with nonprofit organizations like ACLAMO, the ACPPA Community Art Center, CADCOM and Gotwals Elementary School.
Esmond also works with the many student volunteer coordinators who act as liaisons between students and the Norristown community. Any organization in Norristown is welcomed to contact the Civic Engagement Office when seeking volunteers for an upcoming event.
The volunteer coordinators make programs such as Playground Pals at Gotwals Elementary School a possibility. Playground Pals is designed to help targeted students learn to engage in cooperative play and work together as a team. Volunteers eat lunch with students who have been identified as struggling and help them work and play cooperatively with their classmates.
Beyond providing an immense number of services to Norristown, last year BMC students were instrumental in returning over $1 million in tax refunds to the community through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. The program is a free tax filing service sponsored by CADCOM. During the 2010 tax season, 42 student volunteers prepared 834 returns and saved clients $150,000 in tax preparation costs.
Of the ever growing partnership with Norristown, Anderson says, “I am grateful for the many learning opportunities, mentorship and support that our Norristown partners have provided to Bryn Mawr volunteers and interns. Personally, I have also felt warmly welcomed into the Norristown community; participating on committees and collaborating on projects with my Norristown friends and colleagues is one of the favorite parts of my job!”
Is your organization looking for volunteers for upcoming events or programs? Want to learn more about BMC’s Community Partnership in Action programs? Check out the website at www.brynmawr.edu/ceo.