What do deep relationships feel like? Through much of February and March, BCL students were exploring these questions in the context of community itself. By mid-semester, an average BCL day may involve connecting with anywhere from 1-5 different community partners. This is incredibly valuable, since at the end of the day, nurturing community is about perspective-taking.
Over the course of a few weeks, students collaborated with the Champlain Senior Center, King Street Youth Center, Outright VT, Burlington’s Community Justice Center, and numerous local leaders. Each encounter offered another layer to our understanding of what it takes for us all to thrive together.
Not only does the Champlain Senior Center help build a sense of community between seniors of Burlington, it also helps build community at the Old North End Community Center. Because of the Center’s location at 20 Allen St., the seniors there get to have conversations with other organizations in the ONE Center, such as we did today. I would consider a place like this an asset to the City of Burlington, as it creates a nurturing environment and fosters a sense of community for some of our most vulnerable citizens.
The role of this senior center is to bring and take care of our elders, while also providing them with fun ways to stay connected to present life and to build friendships. “I feel very welcome here and have met people from all walks of life,” Janet Williams told our group. I found listening to the stories of these seniors to be fascinating, and I could honestly listen to them talk forever. I enjoy hearing their stories, and their experiences are eye opening to some scenarios in life that I had no insight on. I think our organization could provide more opportunities for the youth of today and our seniors to come together more often and enjoy each other’s company, whether that be listening to more stories or just spending time with them.
Outright VT helps Burlington thrive as a city by working to change statistics around LGBTQ+ youth. Outright VT helps queer youth and children get their feelings out, make friends, connect to bigger city organizations (like housing, and job hunting), and more. This reduces mental health issues, drug and alchol use, and suicide rates in LGBT youth from all areas, whether it’s elementary through high school students, youth not attending school or college students. A thriving community is one where people feel included, comfortable and happy. Outright VT helps Burlington’s queer youth thrive by giving them a community of their own.
Places like Outright ensure that these people have a place to be loved, even when some in the public community reject them. That said, it would be great if Outright had a way to help people across the state who have barriers that prevent them from coming to the space. Because Outright helps kids, it’s difficult for them to reach them sometimes because kids have much less autonomy than adults. They mentioned how in city planning, kids are often not considered. Another barrier is internet access. While they haven’t had much success with people video-calling into the group, the internet can still be a great resource for people who need help, and some places in Vermont still don’t have that access.
The two people that we spoke with at Outright, David and Shel, were also talking about the barriers that the city and state have that have limited their ability to be useful and supportive as it wants to be. One large factor that was enabling the center was transportation. Some of the youths walk from far away because they say the busses would take just as long and are not reliable. It is also hard for some youths to get there because they don’t have the support of their parents to go there, thus leaving them without proper transportation to the center. So although Outright is trying very hard to give people the community they need, society is still preventing them in some ways of having that supportive community that they lack.
Being able to restore relationships with one other is important for a thriving community. To be able to do so we need people who get along and can build relationships. If you are unable to restore relationships when there is harm, there will be no way our community can thrive. Based on my personal experience with The Community Justice Center, I feel that they do a great job restoring those relationships. In Middle School, there were incidents where I saw breaches in trust… The Community Justice Center was my glue with it all and helped me restore and regain trust with the community partners whose trust I lost. The situation could have been worse so being able to have organizations like this one really helps a lot of us thrive individually so we could all thrive together.
I visited King Street Youth Center. This organization works all week long, from Monday to Friday and they’re trying to extend it also into the weekend. They work all year long, in fact once the school year ends they start a summer camp. I feel that this constant is really important and helps a lot of Burlington’s community to thrive, because it makes the people know each other and it creates a lot of connections, especially between the New American and those who have been living here a long time. I feel all this organization like this is really important for a community to thrive.
I think one role of an organization like King Street Youth Center is to help kids who usually don’t feel like they belong. Deena Murphy mentioned that the majority of the people who attend are not White, and to be in Vermont and be a person of color, you are almost always going to be in the minority group, so this can be like a safe space. It’s a place for kids to understand the importance of school, and friendships, and relationships, and life in general. They help parents understand what they’re kids are doing in school as well which is really cool. I feel like this place just helps everybody to make sense of the world, and for a lot of people, they feel safer in Burlington because of this place and that’s really cool.
As Winter began to ease its grip, and the air began to freshen, we expanded our definition of “community” to include our non-human neighbors. BCL was hosted by local naturalist and educator,Teage O’Connor, who welcomed us into his home, and then led us on a walk through one of the city’s “urban wilds”–Centennial Woods.
… A local bobcat! (This blew our minds–and certainly expanded our definition of “community!”)
In mid-March, BCL began a multi-day partnership with the Burlington Police Department. Together with Data Analyst Nancy Stetson, Detective Kratochvil, and Deputy Chief Murad, students explored a variety of data sets that begin to illustrate whether Burlington is thriving, and to to what degree police policies and practices are helping us thrive. This was a fascinating day, as students interpreted noise complaints, traffic stops, larceny, disturbances, welfare checks, vandalism, and many other issues. Before our arrival, Nancy Stetson designed graphs that displayed a variety of variables, from location to time of day to time of year, and students began to unpack the story told by each data set.
Our second day together was also remarkably rich, and mutually valuable. BCL students partnered with DC Murad, Corporal Seller, and Corporal Delgado. Together, we engaged in a formal Consultancy Protocol. The questions before us were How do Burlington youth view the Burlington Police Department? and How can the BPD improve its relationship with both young people and the wider community? Students and our BPD partners all demonstrated honesty, open-mindedness, and vulnerability, and built a bridge that neither group is likely to forget anytime soon.
The BPD contributes a lot to Burlington. They go above and beyond as their role at policing.The BPD enforces the laws of Vermont and keeps our streets clean. They play one of the largest roles when it comes to building our community. Without the BPD, there would probably be a lot of crime and chaos throughout Burlington. They are very essential to a safe and happy city. The BPD is responsible for not only acting on crime but preventing it too. The combination of these two responsibilities creates a strong community that can feel safe and secure. They build the community by allowing it to thrive and do its own thing. Other things that they do in order to build up the community is host events and talk to people at school about what they do. It’s important to educate people about them because it makes the BPD seem friendly and not something to be afraid of. Their role in Burlington is very important both for justice and for everyone’s well-being.
As soon as I heard Dov Stucker announce that we were going to visit the Burlington Police Department, I automatically felt kind of panicked. I think my exact words were ¨I’m not welcome there¨. I just really didn’t want to go considering the fact that I am black and we black people generally try to stay away from cops at all times, so for me to walk into their station, their workplace, is kind of doing the opposite of that. But alas, I didn’t really have much of a choice, so I went anyways. Initially, being there felt incredibly uncomfortable, but I have to admit I did get a lot of really good information from them about how things work, what they do, what happens in the city, and it was all kind of fun and cool. I think the most eye-opening experience for me, though, was when they came to visit us at our home base at the ONE center. They just sat down with us, asked us questions about how they can improve, and answered questions we had for them. They even took notes on some of the things we said. It was kind of shocking to see that they really cared. It was the first time I have ever felt seen and heard and understood by cops. It definitely changed my immediate views of cops as a whole in a very positive way, and I appreciate them for taking the time to try and change what can be changed for them as a Department and for us as a City.
Is BHS a community? It might be more a gathering place of sorts. In typical school, we never take the time to truly get to know all of our classmates or learn much about them. It makes the learning more fun and genuine when you really know your classmates and teachers on a deeper level than usual. I think our BCL community truly does thrive, since we all get along and we’re able and willing to take time to get to know each other and share about ourselves. When we spend time doing activities like Circle or all of the games and activities from the first few weeks of the program, it really does make a difference in our connection. We all were able to bond and get closer to each other which really helped our learning experiences and overall experiences through the program.