Community Institute Stresses Importance of Cooperation

The second annual Community Engagement Institute drew dozens from both Merrimack College and the surrounding communities for seminars and field trips studying ways to serve those in need.

The mission of community engagement is to strengthen communities by building on their assets in partnership with the community members, said associate professor Audrey Falk, director of Merrimack’s master’s program for community engagement. Community engagement addresses community problems through available resources.

Falk and Associate Dean Russ Olwell organized the institute, in late May. Participants took part in lectures and panel discussions as well as field trips to sites in Lawrence, such as Merrimack’s Hands to Help, El Taller, Notre Dame Cristo Rey High School and Youth Development Organization-Lawrence.

“It’s to help people on campus work better with the community,” Olwell said, “to know the community better.”

To engage a community, you have to become a member of the community, said guest speaker and panelist Joan Arches, a UMass Boston professor of curriculum and instruction. Otherwise, you’re an outsider and building trust is difficult, she said.

It’s important to determine what are the needs of a community and who determines the needs before offering help, Arches said.

“What we’ve learned is when we invite the community members into the conversation, it affects what we talk about and how we talk about it,” said Falk.

The institute was sponsored by the Office of the Provost, the Stevens Service Learning Center and the School of Education and Social Policy.

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