A busload of Champlain College students studying social work and psychology traveled to Newport on Nov. 13 for a daylong event organized by Prof. Kim Quinn-Smith and Northeast Kingdom Learning Services (NEKLS) staff members Lisa Daigle-Farney and Suzanne Pelletier. The day included a blend of learning about future careers in the human services/giving fields and actually giving through donations and experiencing a bit of what it's like to need resources and have to find places that could help.
According to Quinn-Smith, "I began the Champlain College CAP (community awareness project) to introduce our students to a different demographic and a region of Vermont that most of our students were unaware existed until our visit to the Northeast Kingdom. Many of our students come from out of state and our trips to the NEK have been eye opening and for some, life changing."
Quinn Smith began working with NEKLS and others in the Newport area three years ago, and the project has grown and improved each year, Lisa Daigle-Farney said. Quinn-Smith added that the CAP includes three visits, the first two to the Corrections Facility in Newport.
"Scott Martin and Mike Lyon did much of the organizing of that and arranged for many on the staff at the prison to speak to our students about the reality of working in the corrections field. They were extremely impressive as a group and provided our students with an experience that they will not soon forget."
The experience also included a delivery of food to the NEKCA food shelf -- the culmination of a now annual event where Champlain College students involved in the CAP run a food drive to benefit the community that, for three years now, has given them such a worthwhile experience.
Quinn-Smith explained. "The professionals at NEKLS have been invaluable in putting this program together. We start planning the three trips to the NEK in May, spending hours and hours of very generously donated time. Lisa and Suzanne are true humanitarians, focused on our future professionals being exposed to the NEK professionals -- learning what it's like to have a career in human services in a rural community. We had a large panel made up of private practice clinicians, DCF workers, an addictions treatment specialist, restorative justice, juvenile justice, a vet who spoke of managing PTSD, just to name a few."
The afternoon line-up provided students workshop choices such as working with survivors of trauma, working with those who don't finish high school, PTSD, and restorative justice among other options. At one point students were given "scenarios." They had to take on an imagined situation such as being addicted to alcohol, not having a high school diploma and at the same time needing a job to help support a new baby on the way. The students needed to explore Newport and its resources and seek whatever support they may need to help them with the situation they were in.
"It's going beyond the textbooks and having a real experience -- walking in the footsteps of those they'll be working with in the future," Daigle-Farney said.
Quinn-Smith and Daigle-Farney agreed the day was a success thanks to all the Newport area professionals devoted to their community. The agencies involved in providing information and opportunities included NEKLS, Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), Economic Services, The Newport Community Justice Center, Vocational Rehabilitation, Northeast Kingdom Human Services, the Area Agency on Aging, and outreach locations such as Cornucopia, the Thrift Shop, and the Food Shelf.
Quinn-Smith sees the program continuing for a long time. "I look at the CAP program as a bridge between two communities - one that has been mutually beneficial. The Champlain College community and the Northeast Kingdom community have developed a wonderful and strong relationship based on trust and friendship, one that will continue to grow for years to come."
For more information on NEKLS or the CAP program, call 1-844-GONEKLS. All of the groups/agencies/locations listed also have web sites.