Friday, May 18, 2012

A Community Web

Just before the semester ended, Library Media Technician Sandy Olson stopped by Unity House to talk about her other job -- as a volunteer community builder.  Many of us at Unity College are forever grateful to Sandy for helping us solve a frustrating technical problem.  She almost always seems to have the answers when it comes to questions about instructional technology. Friendliness and expertise are both qualities of our Unity College Community.

It's no surprise, then, that Sandy is helping her residential community as well. Along with a few other residents of Troy, she has developed and maintained the Troy Maine Local News site, "a news website that we hope you will come to use like a virtual town hub, a central place to find out about all things local." Features include information about people (births, weddings, deaths), as well as articles about happenings like the Town Meeting, pictured here.

Sandy's interest in this project developed as a confluence of several more specific avocations. She has been a skilled practitioner of digital photography for more than a dozen years, and maintains a website that showcases some of her work.  She says her latest series of photo essays, Watershed, "came about gradually as I spent more time locally exploring both the culture and the nature of where I live."

She is also committed to the concept of community narrative, and to exploring how digital media can connect, or reconnect, people who live in particular geographic areas. "I think it's important to be grounded," she says.  She notes that many Troy residents now work out of town (as compared to 30 or 40 years ago), and that there are only one or two active members of the Grange.  However, in recent years, a number of town committees have been formed, and residents have developed a sense of being some place special.  Troy, for example, is different from Unity -- it is a more rural community, with its own character and landmarks, like the Troy Union Church.

"I'm learning through the whole process," Sandy says, "about the town, the Sebasticook watershed, the local narrative.  And it's all changing so fast." Like many Mainers, Sandy is in favor of nurturing the local economy. One way of doing so might be to expand the website: she hopes to list farmers' produce soon.  But Sandy's main concern seems to be an overarching sense of community.  "How do we connect to each other," she asks, "to the land, to the past?  Is narrative the thread?"

Saturday, May 5, 2012

It's All About Service

. .Four members of the Service Squad visited Unity House on April 23rd.  President and founder Kelly Barber was joined by club officers Rachelanne Vander Werf, Summer Nay, and Zeidy Candelario. The squad has forty-four members in all who join together to complete a variety of local and regional service projects. Community-Based Learning coordinator Jen Olin is the club's advisor.

Kelly saw a need for the squad when flooding from Hurricane Irene devastated areas of New England. She says her service ethic may have developed during her freshman experience at Unity College in the Neighbor Warming Neighbor project and she got that warm, fuzzy "I'm a volunteer" feeling, which was enhanced during her Alternative Spring Break trip..

Now, Kelly's motive for engaging in volunteer work is "not for me to feel good, but to insure people are in a better place when I've left." Rachelanne likes to keep busy -- and she likes putting a smile on other people's faces.  Summer and Zeidy both worked as volunteers during high school; for Summer, that early experience "made me feel appreciated."  For Zeidy, volunteering is something of a family tradition; her older sister, Unity alumna Hannia Candelario, was a role model for her in college, and when they were growing up in Miami. 

All four participated in an April disaster relief training sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention. This included training in safe, effective chainsaw use, equipment management, mold identification, and mud-out techniques.  All of the women valued this training, and all were pleased that the church members "were so welcoming, even though we weren't a part of the church." And, the leaders of this session said they would be willing to conduct a disaster relief training session here at Unity College.

Kelly is graduating this year, and she is sad to leave her baby -- the Service Squad -- behind.  Luckily, she has highly motivated colleagues who will carry on the work.  Summer will work to expand options for volunteering; Zeidy will work toward a Dean's Cup event for service to promote volunteerism on campus; Rachelanne will help students "find their fit." The list of service opportunities is long: Unity Barn Raisers, Addie's Attic Clothing Bank, Volunteer Regional Food Pantry, and Avian Haven are just a few in the region.  Get involved -- and who knows, you might get some cookies!