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Early in the Year, a Familiar Trend: Students Serving the Community

Oct 10, 2011

When Hurricane Irene struck just three days before the start of fall classes, returning students barely had time to move into their houses before they were out in the community helping flood victims salvage theirs.

While the College was fortunate to escape Irene with no substantial damage, the storm devastated many in the community (as documented here) with the worst flooding Vermont has seen in decades.

In the days and weeks since, several groups of students have supported local recovery efforts, from cleaning up individual homes and properties, to unloading relief supply trucks, to donating household items and contributing to the recently established Bennington College Flood Relief Fund.

“The chair of the town Interfaith Council called to thank us so much for the students’ willingness to volunteer,” said faculty member Susan Sgorbati, who’s been helping to organize volunteer efforts. “He said it will make a real difference, and I hope it will serve as an important experience for them as well.”

It hasn’t been the only time this fall that students have volunteered in the community. Days before the hurricane, 225 first-year and transfer students painted, gardened, cleaned, and beautified several local sites as part of the second annual Bennington ACTS (Advocating for Community Through Service) Orientation Day.

Conceived in 2009 by students who participated in the inaugural Local Field Experience—a community outreach program that pairs underclassmen with local non-profits during Field Work Term—the service day “gives new students a chance to get to know each other by participating in something meaningful,” said Dean of Students Eva Chatterjee-Sutton

“It also connects them with the community, and hopefully, increases the likelihood that they’ll come back not only to serve, but to take advantage of some of the great opportunities the community has to offer."

Chatterjee-Sutton said response from the 20 project sites—including schools, public parks, the local library, and other community organizations—has been “tremendous."

One of the sites, The Kitchen Cupboard, which provides food for hundreds of families in need each week, has continued to benefit from Bennington students through The Empty Bowls Project, an international grassroots movement aimed at ending hunger and food insecurity.

Bennington students have made and glazed nearly 350 ceramic bowls, which will be donated to the Empty Bowls Soup Supper, where they’ll be sold (with soup inside) to raise money for The Kitchen Cupboard.

The Empty Bowls Soup Supper will be held on Sunday, Nov. 13 at St. Peter's Church on Pleasant St.

For more on the initiative, click here.