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COOP Senior Fellows, from left: Lila Kirchhoff, Amy Zhai, Casey Brown, and Mackenzie Christensen
Each year, a group of dedicated students are selected by the Community Outreach & Opportunity Project (COOP) as senior fellows whose job it is to connect students with volunteer opportunities, building a bridge between the Hill and the local community. For 2021-22, the senior fellows are Casey Brown, Mackenzie Christensen, Lila Kirchhoff, and Amy Zhai. 

Director of Community Outreach Amy James began the Senior Fellows program in the fall of 2010 and said it's been going strong ever since. “I'm an office of one, so without the Fellows - who act as directors of various programs - the COOP would reach fewer community partners and individuals in need, and would never be able to provide the volume of opportunities that we do to Hamilton students."

Bringing both her passion for volunteering and her experience on the women’s soccer team, Mackenzie Christensen connects Hamilton’s athletic teams with community service opportunities. She says one of her favorite aspects of the senior fellow position has been learning more about the local area. As a first-year student, she participated in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service by helping out at the Kirkland Arts Center in Clinton. Three years later, she coordinated a similar trip for the softball team as a senior fellow.

Also involved in community service since her first year, Casey Brown serves as advisor for the CORE (Community Outreach Residential Experience) program in Wertimer House, a first-year student residence. Brown, a neuroscience and classical languages double major, also coordinates volunteers for specific projects and events at the request of local  organizations. Like Christensen, Brown cites the MLK Jr. Day of Service as a highlight of her COOP experience.

“Planning Make a Difference and MLK Day of Service has definitely been my favorite part of working with the COOP,” Brown said. “During this process, I got to [interact] with many volunteer sites around Clinton and Utica and send over 100 students out to serve our community. It’s great to see the turnout we get at these events, especially from first-years, and the impact that we have.”

Lila Kirchhoff, the COOP’s community relations coordinator, connects Hamilton students to volunteer opportunities and oversees their involvement with Clinton schools. She said that learning about the various community organizations in the Mohawk Valley has been the most impactful part of her involvement with the COOP.

“I’ve had such great experiences forming these relationships and hearing about the different ways that organizations are making an impact in their communities,” Kirchhoff said. Since visiting Root Farm in nearby Sauquoit, N.Y., on her first-year orientation trip, she has volunteered at multiple farms and has served as an Outreach Adventure orientation leader. Though she has yet to solidify her post-grad plans, Kirchhoff intends to continue pursuing volunteer work and her interest in agriculture after graduation.

Education fellow Amy Zhai has led multiple service initiatives during her time on campus, in both her role as a COOP fellow and as the project manager for Hamilton Association for Volunteering, Outreach, and Charity (HAVOC). Community service has been a central part of Zhai’s student experience. Not only has she made friends through volunteering, but she has also connected with the local area in meaningful ways by getting involved in the work of

nonprofits and service organizations. Additionally, she believes that her position with the COOP has set her up for future success.

“My experiences with community service at Hamilton, especially leadership opportunities and working with children from varying backgrounds, has given me the skills and confidence to know that I will be able to connect with people and figure out what to do next,” she said. “The COOP has helped me grow professionally and find my voice on campus. It has given me a home.”

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