Community Engagement at Castleton University

Written By: Chrispin White, Castleton University Director Center for Civic Engagement 


Community Engagement is an umbrella term that describes the many ways in which members of Castleton’s University community (students, faculty and staff) use their skills, talent, and energy to benefit communities within and beyond the University, while at the same time providing Castleton student’s rich, real-world learning experiences. Service-Learning and Civic Engagement activities within academic courses, valuable real-world internships, short-term/long-term volunteer projects and service opportunities performed by athletic teams, clubs and individuals all fall under the umbrella of community engagement. Community Engagement helps students to perceive and better understand both the complex nature of social problems and specific community needs, as well as the measures we can take as individuals and institutions to address these needs. Community Engagement thereby creates partnerships in which students join with a variety of community stakeholders, to work collaboratively to better understand both the problems and their own potential to make a difference locally, nationally and internationally.

In most curricular and co-curricular community engagement activities, potentially transformative experiences enhance professional preparation and a sense of civic agency for our students. At the core of Castleton’s community engagement vision is an understanding that members of the University and community are mutual stakeholders in local and global processes and practices. We all can learn by working together in the spirit of solving problems and enhancing individual and community well-being.

Castleton University has a rich history of community engagement, serving the town of Castleton and surrounding communities, since it’s founding in 1789. This ethos defines Castleton as a University and as a premier public institution in New England. This ideal of community engagement infuses the Castleton education, from the classroom curriculum, to the experiences of residence life, athletics and student activities. As President David Wolk often challenges students, they are taught to “make a difference here, before they make a difference in the world.” This is a motto that the Castleton university community lives by.

For more information about Community Engagement at Castleton University and how you can get involved, please contact Chrispin White, Director of the Center for Community Engagement at (802) 770-7062 or

Summer Engagement Opportunities

With the academic year over with and summer in full swing, we would like to share a few summer community engagement opportunities with you, along with some fall walks for a cause. Although the academic year has ended, the needs within our community are still there and in need of volunteers.

Summer Opportunities

Meals on Wheels – Much has been made of the President’s budget, which recommends cutting funding for local Meals on Wheels programs. But, the program in Castleton, VT faces a challenge independent of federal funding – a declining base of volunteers. Please consider giving up to 2 hours per month, to deliver hot meals to those in our community who have difficulty getting out on their own. The meals and the contact with those that deliver the meals make a huge difference to the recipients. Even if you don’t drive, you can partner with another volunteer that will drive and together, you can deliver meals and smiles. For more information, or to sign up to volunteer, please contact Penny Jones at

Slate Valley Trails – Slate Valley Trails, Inc. (SVT) is a volunteer community group founded in 2015. We are a registered non-profit organization and a chapter of the Vermont Mountain Biking Association (VMBA). Their mission is to build, maintain and promote foot and bicycling trails in the Slate Valley region of southwestern Vermont. Their goals are to:

1) Build community among local individuals, organizations and businesses. 2) Support the local economy by promoting the region as a place to visit, with improved access to trails. 3) Encourage the positive health benefits of being active outdoors.

Volunteers Welcome! Help build and maintain local trails! For more information on how to help this summer and to be added to their work emails, please contact Bill Alexander at

Boys and Girls Club – In every community, boys and girls are left to find their own recreation and companionship in the streets. An increasing number of children are at home with no adult care or supervision, yet young people need to know that someone cares about them. The Boys & Girls Club offers this and more.

The Club’s programs and services promote and enhance the development of children by instilling a sense of competence, usefulness, belonging and influence. Boys & Girls Clubs are a safe place to learn and grow – all while having fun. They are truly “The Positive Place for Kids”. For more information on how you can assist with their summer programming, please contact Liz Bates at

Fall Walks for a Cause

2017 Walk to End Alzheimer’s – Saturday, September 9th, Rutland, VT –

Prevent Child Abuse Vermont – WALKS and RUN FOR CHILDREN – Saturday, September 16th, Rutland, VT –

Making Strides against Breast Cancer – Sunday, October 22nd, Castleton University –

For more information on any of the opportunities above, or to research other opportunities that you may be passionate about, feel free to contact Chrispin White at

Service is Lit

Written By: Kalie Dunican 17′

It’s funny; typically when a 23 year old college student like myself utilizes the word “lit”, it’s usually in reference to an overcrowded house party full of intoxicated twenty-somethings snap chatting awfully angled videos and selfies. But for me, it’s not. For me, SERVICE is what’s lit, and I’m about to tell you why.

My name is Kalie Dunican and I am a senior in the Social Work and Sociology programs here at Castleton. Five years ago I embarked on a journey that no one in my family had ever completed before. I packed up my ’07 Subaru Outback, kissed the southeastern shoreline of my Connecticut hometown goodbye, and headed north to Vermont to become a college freshman, where I would learn to change the world. I hit the jackpot, because Castleton became the best place for me to continue that dream and allow it to flourish. Over the last five years I have vigorously worked to find opportunities to give back. I’ve been a volunteer, club member and Executive Board Member of CU’s Habitat Club. I’ve been a mentor at the Castleton Village School. I’ve interned with the Mentor Connector of Rutland County working to match high-risk youth with mentors to increase high school graduation rates. I’ve aided the pregnant and parenting youth of Rutland County in finding solutions to their homelessness through the Rutland County Parent Child Center. While all of these experiences have played an avid role in the lobbying, activist I’ve become, there is no comparison to the experience I was most recently introduced to; Service Year.

Service Year Alliance is an organization that was created to protect national service year opportunities asthe current presidential administration is seeking to eliminate and defund them: AmeriCorps, PeaceCorps, Youthbuild and City Year, to name a few.  Myself, and fellow classmate, Emma Blaiklock were given the opportunity to attend a conference in DC (all expenses paid for) to learn what this organization is about and how we could become a crucial part of it’s movement; to save national service. Arriving in DC we had no idea what to expect, and were shocked when we spent the following four days getting trained in grassroots organizing, meeting alum who participated in service years, networking and engaging with congressmen and representatives that support Service Year and it’s mission, and lastly, actually LOBBYING on Capitol Hill! The knowledge, power and inspiration that was generated from this trip single handedly changed my life. It was like all of the sudden, the last five years that I’ve spent working to make this county and our world a better place, came full circle. I was in the most powerful city in the country, telling my story to the most powerful people that run it. I had the opportunity to run meetings with legislative aids at the offices of Bernard Sanders and Peter Welch asking them to help us help the world by protecting these service year opportunities. I’m currently in the midst of writing an apology letter to Bernie, as I stood 10 feet away from him, saw his distinctive white hair, dropped both my purse and jaw and screamed in the middle of the Capitol Building. Yes, this is true. I wish it wasn’t.

Coming back from this trip, I had perspective. I knew I needed to take everything I had learned in DC and use it to mobilize Castleton. Since, Emma and I have co-founded a Service Year chapter here at CU called Service Year Campus. We hosted a kick-off event that was a smashing success. We had AmeriCorps Members from all over Vermont come tell their service stories, we letter-wrote our respective congressional offices, we signed the petition to save national service, and we MOBILIZED CU to both support and partake in service years.

It is with the utmost pride, hope and inspiration that I walk across the stage in just a few short weeks knowing that I helped create a movement here at Castleton. A service movement. The legacy is not what’s important to me, but the outcome is. CU is about to undergo a massive movement that will touch the lives of students, encourage them to serve and furthermore, give back to our country as there is more than one way to serve it.

Thank you Castleton, thank you Service Year, and thank you, service, for you were a much better companion to me than a solo cup over the last five years. #ServiceIsLit

A New Kind of Living

Written By: Hannah Hamilton 17′

My name is Hannah Hamilton I’m a senior here at Castleton University who just transferred this year from Burlington College in Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoorBurlington, Vermont. Burlington College closed last May right after graduation, so as a result of that, I had to find a new school to apply to, and fast. I heard about Castleton from one of my professors at Burlington College and decided to check it out. I was first drawn to the Art program here because I could concentrate on Photography, which was what my major was at BC, so the transition from there to here wouldn’t be as difficult. From there I looked over housing options here at Castleton and realized that the “Houses” looked pretty cool. The first one that grabbed my attention was North House, or in other terms, the brand new service themed house.

Throughout my high school years, I enjoyed going down to Tennessee to build and restore homes for people in the Appalachian Mountains. From this experience, I connected it to Service House and felt that this was the best fit for me to live in. I’ve always been inclined to help others and give back to the community, and I really enjoyed finding others who enjoyed the same. For that reason, I chose to live in North House last May while visiting Castleton. I liked that they gave back to the community and for each semester you have to fulfill a certain amount of hours. I personally enjoyed this dorm because it’s unlike any other residence hall on campus.

Living in this house, you dedicate 15 hours per semester to serving others. You go to different events on- or off-campus to help people that ask for help, or you reach out and organize something with them. These events vary from picking up trash after a big event or holiday weekend, to cheering on walkers at the Alzheimer’s walk/run event, and then freezing while helping people park Image may contain: 4 people, people standing and outdoorfor the Penguin Plunge on a cold  morning. All of the events that I mentioned were just a few of those which I participated in while living in this residence hall.

The benefit that you get from living in this house is helping others in your community. When I give back to others, it makes me feel good knowing that I was able to help them in any way that I can. You also get to bond with the other people living in the house because you carpool to different events and get to know others outside of the just living in the same space. When you are shy or new, these “mandatory” events allow you to open up and get to know others without doing it alone. I think this dorm is good for any year in college that you are, you can decide freshman year or even senior year to apply. It benefits everyone for different reasons and I believe that it helps everyone grow that much closer with their community outside of campus life. Sometimes as students and as people we need to look outside our bubble and realize that there are others who might need some help here and there, and not be afraid to step up and lend a helping hand.

Image may contain: 4 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoor

Habitat Goes the Distance

Written By: Shaun Williams – Assistant Director of Residence Life at Castleton University, Habitat Club Advisor

Dear Emma,

This is a hard thing for me to do, I think every day about how I can explain to people who ask me how was Georgia. The things that come to mind are “Where’s Kyle”, you peeing your pants at reflection, Corey’s Nip slip, talking with the
owner about her story, Ron, Bobby, and Jon Michael. All things that would never really mean anything to the people who asked me about the trip. These trips are something greater than all of us and help us each for many different reasons. The trip at its core is about spending a week during spring break not partying, not drinking, not sun bathing, but building a home or doing a project that will change the course of someone’s life.

Then you spend two days in a car with people and you start seeing a bond while singing musicals and asking questions about who these people are. Then we start our work. We start to understand that through our hard work we are building a shelter, a home for someone who does not have adequate and safe housing. Wall after wall, truss after truss you become bonded with these 15 individuals who did not really grasp yet what they were accomplishing that first day. Then we go home from the site, even though we want to keep building because there is so much more still to do.

We get home, we have dinner, and we do our first night of reflection. What does this trip mean to you, what are you most excited for, what has surprised you. The night is usually filled with conversation and stories of our first day. We repeat this for four more nights. The day is always the hardest. You have bonded with strangers, people who you are now friends with. You say goodbye to the workers on site, wishing you had more time with them to just finish one more project, you get sad that you might not see them again. I would imagine it can feel like a depression hits you. But at the same time you feel accomplished, you feel a sense of completion, that you are again apart of something greater. You go back to the church where you make dinner one last time and you sit down for your last reflection. We laugh, we cry, and we share all of our great memories. Shaun then will say something like no one can ever take this experience away from you. We are all now bonded together by what we just accomplished.

Raise your hand if you would have been friends with everyone here back at school if we all did not go on this trip. (No one raises a hand). That is why this is so special. We take risks, we don’t judge, we work together to better the lives of strangers and then somehow we better the lives of the people we went on the trip with. We all leave better people. The challenge of writing anything about an event like this, the 15 people who went on this trip understand every word that was just written, and everyone else has to imagine what it was like but will never fully understand until they experience something like this for themselves.

Close your eyes, honestly close your eyes and imagine a time you accomplished something, something you were told you wouldn’t, something that gave you intense happiness. Imagine a time you changed a life or someone changed yours, think of those feelings you had. That is what it is like, just greater. My one piece of advice for anyone who is reading this, take that risk, travel abroad, sign up for habitat, get out of your comfort zone, the world will be a better place because of it.
Your life will change with an experience like this and I promise you when you look back at photos of your on spring break it will never compare to photos of your building something that will change someone’s life.

I could never use words to do justice about what took place that one week in Georgia. It is a gift that was given to the 15 people who embarked on an adventure to a warm location to build a home. They all came back a better person and changed forever.


-Shaun Williams

Changing Lives

Written By: Rebekah Jensen 17′

I had the opportunity with 40 others to go on a medical and public health brigade to Honduras. We traveled by car, bus, airplane, and bus again with 45 bags (2,250 pounds) of supplies to Honduras. While this trip counted as my clinical hours for my Community Health Nursing course, I was able to serve and in return fall in love with the beautiful people and country of Honduras. Beside myself, eighteen other Castleton University students went on this brigade. The whole group goes through the NY-VT Nurses Global Brigades chapter, which consists of nurses, nurse practitioners, students, and laypersons.

NY-VT Nurses have gone to Honduras in the past to do medical brigades; this year the public health portion was added. During the medical brigade this year we saw just under 800 patients in three days. These three days we set up a clinic in a local school in one of the communities in Honduras. The stations that are set up to make the clinic fully-functional include: intake, triage, clinic rooms with doctors and nurse practitioners, OBGYN, optometry, dental, pharmacy, children’s charla (education), adult charla, and DI (data input). When we arrived in the morning for our medical days the street would be lined up with people waiting to be seen; some people would wait for hours in the hot sun to get treatment and care. Global Brigades provides translators for us and there are also community members that help us throughout the day at each station.

Public health also lasted three days of the trip. For the public health our team provided hygiene stations to six different families in another community in Honduras. We were split into six smaller working groups and worked alongside masons in order to build the hygiene stations properly. The hygiene stations include water storage, shower, latrine, and an area to wash clothing. These stations are made out of cinder blocks and cement to form a solid foundation and walls; the roof and door are made out of corrugated tin. These hygiene stations are located outside the home.

I had heard about the change people feel when they go on a Global Brigades trip, but I never expected to feel the way that I did after. In just nine days, I was able to feel at home in Honduras and the people who work for and with Global Brigades made it welcoming and safe. Each day was long and tiring, but the work that we were able to do, to make a difference, was unforgettable. NY-VT Nurses and Castleton University students were able to come together and make a difference. Smiles are contagious, and I was able to see that happening every day throughout my time in Honduras. For anyone wanting to get involved, NY-VT Nurses works all year long at collecting donations of supplies that are used for the clinic and community members while in country on the brigade. There are also many opportunities for fundraising throughout the year in order to provide all the care and services for the medical and public health brigade.

In closing, words cannot encompass the value this trip was to many others and me. I went to serve others on a medical and public health brigade, but got so much in return from the beautiful people and country of Honduras that they call home.

Service Above Self

Written By: Daniel Warnecke 17′

University breaks are meant for kicking your feet up and relaxing—or are they? The Castleton University Rotaract Club thinks otherwise. The club just recently broke this stereotype, during the university’s winter break, by attending an awe-inspiring, amazingly successful mission trip to Vero Beach, Florida, through Epic Missions, Inc. The Rotaract Club understands that there is nothing wrong with rejuvenating oneself over a break, but the club also understands that nothing beats the “high” one feels from a fruitful service trip.

When one thinks of Florida, poverty doesn’t really cross the mind, but the Rotaract Club witnessed poverty, and a great amount of it, first hand. Vero Beach, Florida is seen by many as the land of the rich, with sprawling, ocean-side mini-mansions as far as the eye can see. But, this mindset is not the complete truth. What people don’t see within the outskirts of the city could easily leave them in a state of shock. Poverty is a common word in the Vero Beach area, and the need that we witnessed as a club was incredible. Homes were falling apart, roadways were overgrown, crime was a normalcy, and families, everywhere, were broken. At times, some club members stated that they forgot that they were in the United States; they felt like they were in a third-world country, not the richest country in the world. So, the Rotaract Club got to work—and quickly. The club cleared land for a future homeless shelter for pregnant women, stocked shelves at local thrift stores and discount food stores, painted a family home in dire need of a facelift, cleaned up the facilities of a nonprofit organization called Operation Hope, and even had the amazing opportunity to visit with young children (who were less fortunate than most Americans) within local schools to play and teach.

The Rotaract Club is an officially recognized Rotary club within Rotary International—a worldwide, nonprofit organization. Rotary International’s motto is “Service Above Self,” and the Rotaract Club’s Vero Beach mission trip truly lived up to this motto. But, the Rotaract Club’s actions also lived up to something much closer to us all: the Castleton way. Castleton University has always been a place of love and service to others, and the Castleton way was evident within many of the Rotaract Club members, throughout the mission trip. The trip helped the club members gather a better understanding of the real world, and country, that we are apart of daily. I, the club’s very lucky President, have been blessed to see this unfold within the minds of multiple Rotaract Club members for the past four years—something that I will always personally cherish.

My hope for the future of the Rotaract Club is that it continues to create these eye-opening moments for students, and my hope for our amazing university, with a BIG heart, is that it continues to move forward in the direction of the true Castleton Way. Helping others is always the answer.   


Castleton Engaged 2017: Engaging!

Written by: Charlotte Gerstein, Castleton Reference & Instruction Librarian, guest blogger


Castleton Engaged, held on February 2 in the Campus Center, was energizing and satisfying this year. I am on the Civic Engagement steering committee and a member of the Bridge Initiative so I have been to this event each year since it started in 2014, and had this year’s on my radar for months.  It is always great to see and hear what our community-minded students have been doing out in the field, but this year the format worked so well, and the students were so, well, engaged, it was particularly enjoyable.

The students who presented at the flash panels were amazingly poised, as if they had been doing presentations like this all their lives.  Emma Blaiklock, in a new “Service House” t-shirt, kicked off the flash panel and shared what’s been going on at “Service House” where she is the Community Advisor, like a community dinner celebrating international students and lots of volunteering.  Emma is one of the most engaged students on our campus and will be a dynamo and an asset to her future employers and community.

Tegan Waite shared her experience traveling to Kenya and fundraising stateside to support a nonprofit called HEAL Kenya.  She clearly had a life-transforming experience visiting a HEAL site in Kenya last summer. While engaging with this worthwhile cause as a student she is practicing leadership skills and caring citizenship that she will bring to any future endeavors.

Abigail Hackman shared her pilot project composting food waste from the dining hall. Zoey St. Denis shared her experience with a voter registration drive, explaining why it’s needed and why she cares so much. Amanda Clement shared a project called “Improving Biodiversity Consciousness Using Environmentally Sustainable Practices.” Kelly Mesler and Molly Perkins shared their experience starting a tutoring program for area children as part of a civic engagement psychology course. Patrick Cote-Abel and James Britt shared how they learned about, and wanted to do what they could to help with, the plight of Syrian refugees.  One action they took was to put on a Middle Eastern dinner as a fundraiser.

After the panels, the audience was free to partake of appetizers, and wander and talk to other students at tables around the room with various visuals to share about their community engagement experiences. Senior Matt Gay was obviously engaged and knowledgeable about his project.  He has been the SOS for Bill Kuehn’s FYS class for the three years since he was one of its students.  This class takes on a project to clean up an illegal dumping site just over the border in New York. He had a great story about catching one illegal dumper whose W2 form was among the garbage he dumped. The police were able to locate the man and fine him for this crime.  The class and the professor have been lucky to have such an engaged SOS, and Matt has benefited from this leadership opportunity and an opportunity to learn a lot about this problem and possible solutions.

Another enthusiastic and prepared senior was Karsen Woods who started a student organization supporting Planned Parenthood and educating the campus about its work. She seems ready to step right out of Castleton into a career in this work. She is hoping another student will take over leadership of this group when she graduates. Students from Megan Blossom’s psychology civic engagement course had several projects to share. First year student Reilly Knipes was passionate as she shared the research she did as part of her First Year Seminar, on race and incarceration in Vermont and nationally.  She was prepared with a Powerpoint presentation on her computer. Kat Haseltine shared about a workshop she put on with the Academic Support Center about financial literacy modelled after the Game of Life board game. Super-senior Zachary Hampl had a poster about the Brough pond project.  Several students and professors are working to get support to clean up Brough Pond, behind the North, South and Audet houses, to beautify it and make it safer and a valuable community space.

The community partner award, presented by Director of Community Engagement Chrispin White, this year went to Meals on Wheels and we were treated to a short history and anecdotes about the relationship of Castleton to Meals on Wheels by retired Academic Dean Joe Mark.  Meals are delivered three days/week, so the program always needs more volunteers. Contact Penny Jones at 775-0133 if you are interested in volunteering, or talk to Chrispin White or me to learn more about the program.

The Civic Engagement steering committee is lead by Dean of Special Academic Programs Ingrid Johnston who, with Chrispin White, headed up this successful event.  I am always very grateful for their leadership and promotion of these opportunities for students, and providing this chance for the campus community to learn about their work.  It is interesting to learn about all these projects, to think about community needs and the ways our campus community can help and is helping, but I especially like to see how these experiences have enriched our students.  The confidence and knowledge they gain is visible, and makes it easy to see these particular students (or any who get as involved as they have) stepping right out into the work world (and their roles in their communities as adults) with valuable, marketable skills, not the least of which are enthusiasm, a sense of agency, and effective communication.

Verdict:  Castleton Engaged 2017 was particularly engaging and our students rock!

Keeping it Kluehn

Written By: Matt Gay 18′

13 years ago Professor William Kuehn started a community service project in the Whitehall, New York/ West Haven, Vermont area at the Buckner Preserve.  The class works in collaboration with the Nature Conser16295238_10207918061529192_1481547762_nvancy to clean up the area. The project’s main focus has been to clean up the preserve, teach students about the impacts of illegal dumping, and work towards minimizing and eventually eliminating illegal dumping in that area all together. Every fall semester, Professor Kuehn’s first year seminar group travels to the Buckner preserve and picks up, searches through, and catalogs trash and non-natural items they find. In doing this, the group hopes they can find an address or name linking the garbage. I have been involved in this project for three years now. I began as a student participating in picking up from the illegal dumping for a First Year Seminar. These last two years I took on a new perspective through being a student teacher for the class. I have helped to mentor the students in the class. I felt it was important to stay involved in this project over the years because as a first year student, it was very eye opening that this was such a big issue. I felt that it would be really cool to help future students see that as well. This project is an important aspect of the course because as a sociology class, we are really focused on what groups of people do, and why. It is vital to become civically engaged in our communities. Being civically engaged helps to build our community and it shows that as a University we don’t just care about ourselves but also our surroundings. 16237044_10207918061609194_1845202653_n

Killington Friendship Program Success With More to Come

Written By: Kelly Mesler 17′

The Killington Friendship Project, first founded as the Castleton Mentoring Program, began after the devastating effects hurricane Irene had on the Killington community. Flooding during hurricane Irene severely damaged homes, roads, businesses, and many other parts of Killington. Students in the ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) class in the psychology department saw this as an opportunity to step up and help the Killington community using their knowledge and skills learned in the classroom.


The mentoring program began as a way students of KES (Killington Elementary School) could connect with the college students from Castleton. Using the principles they learned from ABA, Castleton students worked on building lasting relationships with the students of KES as well as being their role models, leaders, and mentors during the tough time their community faced.

A couple of years later, there was a need to continue the program at Killington. As a new member of the ABA class, I was looking for a project to take on and the devastating effects of hurricane Irene hit close to home for me. Many parts of my hometown in Vermont (about 45 minutes away from Killington) were also heavily affected by the flooding.  I took this opportunity to continue the program and fulfill my predecessors’ achievements to my best ability.

I met with the KES guidance counselor and we discussed goals for the project, making a detailed plan for what we hoped to accomplish. The project was renamed Killington Friendship Project with hopes that the program would be geared less towards mentoring and more towards social and personal self-esteem building.

To promote self-esteem and social skills building, team building and mindfulness activities are implemented into recess and lunch time during weekly meetings with students. Students’ self-esteem is measured with Rosenberg’s self-esteem scale, so far showing a slight increase over time on certain aspects of self-esteem. I have noticed more qualitative rather than quantitative changes but hope as the project continues; I will be able to better measure the successes and shortcomings.


The project is now continuing in its third year under my coordination. The connections built through the program have helped establish a relationship between the university and Killington that was not as prevalent before. I will continue to volunteer at Killington during my senior year at Castleton with hopes that another ABA or Civic Engagement student will be eager to become involved in the program and at some point take over the project as their own!

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