Bennington Interns Offer Community Assistance
During the COVID-19 pandemic, twenty-two Bennington College students are interning for local organizations working to support food sustainability, public health, family initiatives, and other resources for Bennington community members.
Bennington Regenerative Food Network
As part of the Bennington Regenerative Food Network—which seeks to revitalize the economic, social, and ecological health of areas in and around Bennington, VT—six Bennington students have been interning with partner organizations working to connect local producers with markets, develop sustainable farming practices, and create a progressive curriculum and training in regenerative food and agriculture.
These students include Ernesto Cruz-Barriga '22 and Ariel Mora '21 at Ambata Capital, Bev Johnson '21 and Dui Zhang '20 at Studio Hill Farm, and Ludmila Mocchutti '21 and Jacqueline de Loos '22 with climate expert Edward Cameron.
Bennington County Mutual Aid
Genevieve Roby '22 and Nori Hilton '22 have been working with Bennington County Mutual Aid (BCMA) to create a Bennington Mutual Aid Resource Guide.
BCMA is comprised of volunteers who are working to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are working as connectors between organizations, people in need, volunteers, farmers, other COVID-19 response groups, hospitals, and government organizations.
As interns, Roby and Hilton have been sending daily information to different groups of people about opportunities to help, such as volunteering and donating, as well as reaching out to organizations to see how they can support their direct work in the region.
"My favorite experience so far has been the weekly calls we interns have with others in BCMA, where we can update each other on our progress," said Roby. "Nori and I are not located in Vermont right now, so we are working remotely. It feels really rewarding to be able to hear from people working on the ground, in Bennington, about how the work we have been doing is paying off in the community. It's nice to feel as though we are helping people, as best as we can."
"My favorite project has been creating a compilation of all of the different organizations in Bennington Country that are helping Vermonters during the pandemic. I researched the organizations, their goals, and how they have tailored their efforts to serve the community in these crazy times," said Hilton. "BCMA has been working to connect Bennington residents to the services they need, mostly focusing on food access, medical care, and financial help. It has been amazing to work in Mutual Aid because it has a direct impact on the community I care so much about, and it fills my heart to know how many community members are willing to help their neighbors."
Project Against Violent Encounters (PAVE)
Cassandra Taylor '21 has been interning for Project Against Violent Encounters (PAVE), an organization that works to help victims of domestic abuse and which works with first responders and the greater Bennington community to provide education and information about domestic violence.
Taylor is currently a research assistant, spending her time learning from experts in the field to help expand and develop PAVE's work.
"My favorite project has been an ongoing one, where I gather information about how small organizations like PAVE can better help immigrants and refugees suffering from domestic violence," said Taylor. "PAVE is an incredible organization that not only provides relief, safety, and help for those suffering from domestic abuse, but also a plethora of educational services like adult classes and help with court cases and supervised child visitation time."
Bennington Rec Center
In these challenging times, Albert Aleksanyan '22 sees an enormous importance in maintaining healthy communities.
Aleksanyan began working with the Bennington Rec Center in order to strengthen the connection between the College and the local community.
As a community intern well-versed in art therapy, he is designing art-based activities for the community members he serves.
"Besides sharing knowledge, this program also helps raise relevant issues such as anxiety management and life perspective, which can be conveyed through art," said Aleksanyan.
Aleksanyan is also designing curriculum for a program called “Art in the Community," which involves low-maintenance art classes, hosted by Bennington students, for various age groups.
"I am convinced that skill sharing in the art field is a great way to bring communities together," said Aleksanyan. "In the future I am planning to involve the science faculty in order for those sessions to take an educational curve. I believe we can teach each other about global issues through art."
Sunrise Family Resource Center
Every Thursday, Alexander Gallagher '22 reads a story for young children over a video call and shows them how to do a craft as part of his work for Sunrise Family Resource Center. His work is fun for the kids and lessens the burden on Sunrise's staff as they accommodate an influx of requests during this time.
"Because of COVID-19's impact on the economy and people's daily lives, right now is a very challenging time to be raising children, especially for the low-income families Sunrise often works with," said Gallagher. "It feels great to know I can help them pass the time with their kids and make things just a little easier."
Grow a Row Initiative
Sbobo Ndlangamandla '21 and Katharine Ruegger '22 have been working on a collaboration between Bennington College and Robert Frost Stone House Museum called "Grow a Row."
Through the Grow a Row project, gardeners will be able to donate produce to local food banks through the Robert Frost Stone House Museum. Not only does this benefit food insecure members of the local community, but it also helps gardeners with extra vegetables to avoid waste.
As part of this collaboration, Bennington College and the Robert Frost Stone House Museum are offering a webinar on Resilience Gardening to empower gardeners with knowledge on everything from compost to keeping plants healthy to saving seeds, and more.
"Talking to community members about the Grow a Row project has been the most exciting part of this position," said Ndlangamandla. "I have also had lovely conversations with people who work at local food banks. In those conversations, I got to learn more about the food culture in Bennington, as well as the amount of food insecurity that exists in the community."
Food Security, Plastics, Homelessness, and Health
Bennington student interns are also pursuing numerous other opportunities in the local community, including:
- Sophia Grimani '22, working for the Vermont Department of Health
- Sakshi Rakshale '22, working for Meals on Wheels
- River Castaneda '22, working for the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless
- Sarah Fadem '20 and Srichchha Pradhan '22, working for GANAS: Latino Community Outreach Mission
- Kemly Derby '21, researching for the Beyond Plastics project
- Bryce Sullivan '22, research assistant for the Center for the Advancement of Public Action's Food Studies
- Xuan Bach Le '22, working for the Center for the Advancement of Public Action's Real Food Challenge