College talks community connections

The Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement serves to strengthen the relationship between Grinnell College and the local community through College outreach and interactions. The Office serves the College’s mission by administering the College’s awards, gifts and grants for the benefit of the local community. It plays an active role in promoting greater student-townspeople interactions. The S&B’s Ji-Hyun Lee ’18 met with members of the Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement: Director Monica Chavez-Silva, Program and Communications Manager Melissa Strovers and Service Learning Fellow Bonnie Brooks ’15 for an interview.

Director of the Office of Community Enhancement Monica Chavez-Silva. Photo by Shadman Asif.

Director of the Office of Community Enhancement Monica Chavez-Silva. Photo by Shadman Asif.

What are some of the projects the Office of Community Enhancement and Engagement is working on this semester?

Strovers: Our office directs college investments, policies and programs toward helping our hometown to become a better place to live, work and study. … Couple of programs that come to mind are Volunteer Initiative Program for students and that’s an opportunity for those students who do volunteer work for the community to submit a request to our office if they do more than 15 hours in a community service project with a local nonprofit organization and can earn 100 dollars for that organization. Another is the Community Engagement Award [co-sponsored internally by SGA Student Services, Community Enhancement & Engagement and Service Learning and Civic Engagement]. It is a way for students to partner with a local nonprofit for a community initiative idea and we’ll be offering up to three awards this year for 1,000 dollars apiece.

Chavez-Silva: In the last couple of years we made these new publications. One is for students, mostly seniors, who are living off campus. What we thought would be useful was to pull together information … in one place institutionally and we can use this to support the students and encourage them when they are living off campus.

Is there anything new you are implementing this year that is different from last year?

Chavez-Silva: Every year we are trying to do our regular programming better. One of our longest-standing office programs that we run on a regular basis is the Mini Grant Program. … That program has been running for over a decade, but this year for the first time, we are trying to do a reception that gives the award winners the chance to meet each other, to talk about their work a little bit, and to meet people in the committee. We are realizing that’s a small thing we can do, but probably important. We will try to incorporate those kinds of involvement on a regular basis.

Strovers: We are always looking for ways that we can engage the campus community with the Grinnell community. One of the things that comes to my mind is a co-sponsorship that we did with the Office of Prairie Studies. The Grinnell Herald-Register are now placed in the Grill, and so the students can get a copy of the local newspaper. … There’s also … an e-publication called Student Style Grinnell. I know Bonnie is going to be hopefully working with a fellow. The Chamber is going to be producing Student Style Grinnell. It is going to be a monthly publication … about things that are happening in the community. So if students want to be aware of the things that are happening in the community, Student Style Grinnell would be a great place for them to subscribe to.

Brooks: … I am kind of the student face of the Community Engagement Award as well as the Volunteer Initiative Programs. So if people, specifically students, have questions in regards to those programs, they can come talk to me. I am also working intimately with SGA as well as the Chamber of Commerce … in terms of projects that are going on with SGA and the Office with the Community Engagement Award.

You mentioned that the Office has been working with a variety of nonprofits and businesses. Will there be any changes in who you are reaching out to this year?

Chavez-Silva: I am not sure there is any way we are doing it differently, except that we are always looking for ways to be even more engaged and maybe if this year we can work even harder to integrate our planning with the planning that other community members are doing. I think there’s … a distinction … a nice partnership between our office and the work that Susan Sanning [Director of Service Learning and Civic Engagement] does, particularly with students and nonprofit organizations. One of her areas of focus is connecting individual students with their areas of passion and different community nonprofits. I think what we are trying to do is a little bit different: generally speaking, how can we encourage the whole student body to engage with the community?

What are you looking forward or hoping to achieve this year?

Brooks: I definitely want to get the word out more about things to do in the community just because I felt like that was something I missed out on a little bit on my time at Grinnell. I think I took the community for granted and about the culture of Grinnell bubble. I guess what I am looking forward [to] the most is breaking that down. … And I think a lot of that has to do with just making it more aware … of other programs that are done through this office and through other nonprofits in the community to better encourage students to become a part of the community … basically supporting those efforts and coming up [with] some of my own.

Chavez-Silva: Last year we did a lot of learning about our community from the College’s perspective and how visitors view the College. I think one of the things we learned was that we could probably restructure how we do community investments so we can be more closely tied with our community partners on the planning side and be a little more nimble in how we respond to some community priorities. I think we will be making progress on that this year.

If students are interested in subscribing to the e-publication Student Style Grinnell, they should send an email to communityenhance@grinnell.edu.