Sitting in Bonnie’s space downtown, The Center for Dialogue, we laid out our eight weeks in Easton. We scheduled in leadership training, meetings with faculty and community partners in Easton, trips to the Easton Area Community Center, our weekly hour at the senior center, and much, much more. Our activities and meetings that we planned throughout the summer were intentional, hoping to develop skills within ourselves and work with the people of Easton to build relationships that allow us to be more civically engaged in our home away from home.
But it’s the experiences away from the summer agenda that bring the most valuable lessons. May it be the comments children make to me, the thought provoking discussions we have, or talking to Easton residents that are truly making a difference, that is when I feel a ping of gratitude for this opportunity. About two weeks ago the five of us went to the Summer Nights program, sponsored by Weed and Seed. The program is for all kids in the West Ward, providing them with a free meal and fun games every weeknight from 4-7pm. For many of these kids, they rely on the free meal the school provides them during the school year, and this program allows them to continue getting that meal throughout the summer. When the five of us walked into Centennial Park, there were about thirty kids and teens staring at us. We were first to admit we were hesitant about the next two hours, afraid to be seen as college kids coming in and feeling pity for these children. But we forgot about fears and preconceived notions and began playing with the children. I found myself playing with about three little girls, around the age of 5. We sat in the shade and created our own imaginary birthday party with side walk chalk. After about thirty minutes of drawing cupcakes, pizzas, balloons, and presents one of the little girls looks up at me and says to me, “This is the best day of my life!” It may have been the way she said the sentiment with pure excitement, or the fact that just having a new found friend play with her for the afternoon brought her happiness, but she made my day. For me, that was a moment that brought me back to the realization of why I was here this summer. Even if I am just stopping by to play with these kids for a few hours, I am making a difference.
While making our schedule at the beginning of the summer, we dubbed Fridays as “Field Trip Fridays.” As silly as it may sound, they have turned out to be quite the learning experiences. One Friday, we scheduled a lunch and van tour of Easton with the new Associate Dean of Intercultural Development/Director of Gender & Sexuality Programs, Gene Kelly. We had an AMAZING lunch at Third Street Bistro, so good that we are still talking about it two weeks later. Bonnie then led us through the van tour of Easton, and it was interesting to see the differences between the areas of Easton. The Southside, the West Ward, Downtown, and College Hill are all different sections of Easton. All together in the five square miles of Easton, they hold a very different demographic of people. After the van tour, we stopped into Bonnie’s space downtown for a reflection about what we just saw throughout Easton. We began to have a great discussion about Lafayette students and their role in the Easton community. It was very interesting to hear from Gene, a new resident of Easton, and listen to his perspective of his new home. The six of us began to talk about the so called “Lafayette Bubble.” This bubble refers to the fact that most of the student population on campus stays sheltered on College Hill, rarely venturing down into Easton. At Landis this is an epidemic we are continuously trying to cure. Why do Lafayette students have this notion that Easton is a bad place? How can we reach out to the student body and allow them to get to know their beautiful home for four years of their life? The Landis volunteers are quite familiar with the trifecta model we reference; education, direct service, and reflection. During this discussion we talked about education, and ways in which we can educate Lafayette students about Easton and get them more involved in their community. There seems to be a disconnect between the college students and the residents of Easton, and we want to bring those students out of the bubble and allow them to embrace their community. The conversation was enlightening, allowing each of us to delve into our own experiences and think back to what made us interested in community service. It was a conversation that left you thinking hours after it was over, a feeling I have felt and thoroughly adopted over the past four weeks.
We may have a busy schedule when one looks at our calendar, but our learning doesn’t just happen in meetings and workshops. It is the experiences where the five of us open up, meet someone new, and reflect about our past that truly make this summer one of a kind.