Chester Community Fellows Share Experiences of Service

After a summer of service and enlightenment, eight students who worked as Chester Community Fellows presented their experiences to the college community.

Offered by the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility, Chester Community Fellowships (CCF) provide students with individual, full-time experiences in nonprofit social service organizations located in nearby Chester.

Throughout the 10-week program, students worked at a variety of agencies, including the College Access Center of Delaware County, Chester Youth Court, and the Nia Center, where students created a pop-up museum in the Ruth L. Bennett Home.

Jacob Demree ’19 of Mount Laurel, N.J. worked at the Chester Housing Authority, where he taught computer skills to children. He found his work to be extremely rewarding, but not without its challenges.

“Being that Chester is affected by gun violence, economic turmoil, and other factors, negative external influences did intrude in my classroom,” he says. “I know that I cannot even begin to comprehend what it feels like to be in the students’ situations, but I feel that, even with these challenges, I have learned a great amount about what it means to teach a class of learners, all with very different backgrounds and learning styles.”

In addition to working at their service sites, the students also held group meetings under the leadership of Associate Professor of Political Science Keith Reeves '88, Associate Professor of Statistics Lynne Steuerle Schofield '99, Assistant Professor of Sociology Nina Johnson, and Assistant Director of the Intercultural Center Mo Lotif. These meetings enabled the students to contextualize their service experience. Janice Luo ’19, of Danville, Pa., found this to be an essential part of the program.

“I did not expect that we would delve so deeply into the history of Chester, which is fascinating and crucial to understanding the circumstances it sits with today—systemic racism, a corrupt political machine, the effects of mass incarceration,” says Luo, who worked with the Chester Children’s Chorus. “I realized the complexity of my work, and consequently my work engaged and impacted me much more.”

A number of students who participated in the program now view Chester as a resource. Keyanna Ortiz-Cedeño ’19 of Portland, Tex., took full opportunity of her time in Chester, immersing herself in the community. Outside of her work at the Chester Community Charter School, she began attending church, frequenting shops, and meeting community members in the city.

Arto Woodley, scholar-in-residence at the Lang Center, says the goal of the program is “to develop the next generation of civic leaders who are both intellectually curious and socially responsible.”

“Each component of the program is formatted to foster the Fellows’ growth as both a scholar and a civic leader,” says Woodley, who worked with Civic Education and Engagement Fellow Hana Lehman ’13 and Administrative Assistant Dolores Robinson to coordinate this summer’s program. “I believe this cohort is well on its way to developing in both areas.”

Overall, the scholars are appreciative of the service opportunities the program offered. “The opportunity to engage with Chester as a community, which we [at Swarthmore] do not always do enough, has been one of a kind,” says Demree. “I feel like I walk away with a greater awareness of one of Swarthmore’s neighbors. The experiences of working with a community I do not belong to and am attempting to learn from have been very special.”