Although there are many opportunities for community outreach at Hamilton, a select group of students have chosen to go above and beyond by taking their service experience off the Hill and into their local communities.
Each year, first-year students apply and then eight or nine are selected to be a part of the COOP Service Internship program. Over the course of four semesters, the COOP Service Interns, or CSIs, engage with the community through a paid internship with a variety of nonprofit organizations.
Founded in 2009 by the Hamilton College COOP, (Community Outreach and Opportunity Project), the CSI program is designed to help students learn to better understand themselves through the experience of giving back to others. “We hope to inspire a unique, fulfilling relationship between students and the community,” says Director of Community Outreach Amy James. “Students really grow and learn over the course of the years as they begin to take responsibility in their roles and come up with new ideas to enhance the program.”
This year’s CSI interns are volunteering for a local library, an arts center, an after-school autism program, an equine therapy center for young children and the Utica City Council Office, as well as interning with organizations such as On Point for College, United Way, and the Parkway Center.
Nine first-year students—Savannah Kelly, Diana Perez, Jack Scacco, Anne (Claire) McCaslin, Claire Nakazawa, Juliana Desimone, Amy Harff, Avery Cook and Adriana Mullin—are already deeply engaged in various service projects that not only offer a helping hand to community members in need, but also provide valuable experience toward the students’ academic and career interests. By the time they graduate the program in their sophomore year, the CSI interns will be well on their way towards becoming leaders in their community.
Diana Perez ’21 has been passionate about government service since high school. As an intern at On Point for College in Utica, she works to provide college access to students of all ages and backgrounds. “I was very excited to have been assigned to On Point because this organization aligns with my interests in local politics, social development and community outreach. I have always found that understanding the community that surrounds me is one of the most important ways for me learn, and there is no better way to do that through service.” Perez hopes her CSI experience will help her work toward her aspirations: using a blend of politics and social work to provide youth rehabilitation services as a juvenile judge.
Even as the CSIs work to leave a meaningful impact on their communities and grow into their new service roles, they’ve also formed a deep bond with each other. Each Thursday, the members meet to discuss their service projects or just relax and have fun. Claire Nakazawa ‘21, who is working with children with learning disabilities at Root Farm, calls these meetings the highlight of her week. “It’s nice to just sit around discussing the meaning of life with people we’ve grown really close to. It lets us take time to reflect on our internships and share stories. We’re like a family.”
The core of the CSI program is an awareness of the bonds that hold people and communities together. For James, the value of their work lies on this emphasis of community. “It’s a valuable experience that goes beyond so much more than just the job description,” she says. “Students are learning who they are and who they want to be, as well as how they can assist the communities around them by doing what they’re most excited about: service.”