While many Tufts students use the summer to explore new interests, some return to organizations they have worked with in the past in order to forge more meaningful collaborations.

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AnissaSummerEach year, dozens of Tufts students interested in civic engagement and committed to social justice address pressing community needs as Tisch Summer Fellows. Through these career-building internships in Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C., these young people have a chance to work with many different organizations and tackle myriad social issues—from healthcare access, to youth literacy, to environmental stewardship—as they explore their passions and try to figure out where and how they can best make a difference.

Some figure it out quicker than others. While many students try their hand at many different projects and issues, each year several Summer Fellows choose instead to return to the previous summer’s placement or extend their school-year project in order to continue the work, deepen their learning, and forge a more sustainable partnership.

That’s the case this year for Jewel Castle, A17, at the New York City Community Learning Schools Initiative;  Anna Hymanson, A16, at the Arcadia Mobile Food Market in Washington, D.C.; Anissa Waterhouse, A17, at the Cambridge/Somerville LIFT office; and Kimberly Mendoza, A16 at the national LIFT offices in D.C. All four students display an exemplary commitment to their organizations’ missions, and their continued capacity-building helps each one advance its goal.

A Genuine Connection

Tisch Scholar Anissa Waterhouse first learned about LIFT after meeting the organization’s founder, Kirsten Lodal, at a Tisch College event. “I met her, we got to talking, and I really fell in love with the organization and their mission,” she says.

That mission is to pair community “members” who are struggling to lift themselves out of poverty with volunteers who act as “advocates,” working hand-in-hand with them to understand their specific needs and connect them with social services like housing assistance, childcare, and job training.

That work resonated with Waterhouse. “It has personal ties to me,” she says. “I come from a very similar background to some of my members, I come from a low-socioeconomic background, and it’s really awesome for me to be able to be around people like that and really connect with them.”

As part of her Tisch Scholar project during the past academic year, Waterhouse served as an advocate during the fall semester, working directly with members. In the spring, she focused more on updating and improving the database of contacts, social services, and community partners that is in many ways the backbone of LIFT’s efforts.

Returning to LIFT this summer allowed her to continue that work, and to take on some new duties, given her relative seniority to some of the other volunteers.

“I’ve gotten to take a pretty big leadership role in helping the new AmeriCorps members and the new summer advocates. It’s really cool to have heightened responsibility and more of a leadership role because I’m one of the few people there that has been here for a while now,” says Waterhouse.

But what is most fulfilling, she says, is the opportunity to spend more time with community members—both following up with those she had already worked with during the year, and meeting new people for whom the work is just beginning. While through her Scholar project she worked with about four different members per week, she now sees about four per day, deepening a connection that has become integral to her college experience.

“My members are definitely a huge part of my life here at Tufts and at Tisch,” she says. “We see them at some of the worst times in their lives, they come in and we work on our goals together, and that’s my motivation. It’s been really amazing and I’m glad I get to do it.

At School for the Summer

Just as Waterhouse felt a personal connection to LIFT’s mission, so did Jewel Castle to the work of the New York City Community Learning Schools initiative (NYCCLS).

“I had lived in New York City all my life, grew up here, and went to private school here through financial aid. But I lived in Harlem and knew a lot of kids who hated school, and the public schools were terrible, from what I heard,” she says.

Castle found an opportunity help address that issue last summer as a 2014 Tisch Summer Fellow at NYCCLS, which implements the nationwide Community Schools Strategy in more than 20 schools throughout the city, particularly in under-resourced areas like Staten Island, Brownsville, and the Bronx.

“The model is essentially to make schools into community hubs: to offer full-service schools that can help the communities by offering services such as dental and medical care, enrichment programs, after-school programs, added art classes… essentially anything a student would need,” says Castle. “We partner with a school and we pay for a full-time staff member to be in the school and to really work on creating partnerships with nonprofits, community organizations or private organizations that can provide the services at low cost.”

Last summer, Castle focused on developing a detailed handbook for schools to help them best take advantage of that dedicated resource coordinator and helped compile a database of all the organizations that NYCCLS had worked with in the past years. She also got to visit schools and see first-hand the organization’s impact, including the positive effects of some programs that surprised her.

“One thing I saw that I didn’t think of that much before was the importance of vision care: having a vision van come around and do eye screenings for students and get them glasses if they need them,” says Castle.

Now, in her second summer working at NYCCLS—after also volunteering there during this past winter break—she is working on compiling statistics from those vision care programs into a comprehensive report. She is also focused on another oft-overlooked aspect of the community schools by trying to develop a mental health curriculum and ensuring that each school has access to mental health resources in their area.

For Castle, this second experience at NYCCLS has helped to underscore what she is passionate about, and possibly shaped her professional future.

“When I was younger I definitely wanted to be a teacher and this seems to me like an extension of that and a way to effect change on a larger scale than just a classroom,” she says. “I’ve done a lot of work in nonprofits and I think that’s where I can have an impact.”

Originally posted July 2015