New Student-Run Volunteer Org Connects Students with DelCo

Volunteer Council of Delaware County (VCDC) co-directors Yi Wei ’21, Maleyah Peterson ’21, and Terence Thomas ’21 founded the group in Fall 2018. Since then, VCDC has been brainstorming a series of Workshop programs with help from their volunteers and college partners, meeting with Chester community leaders and high school counselors, arranging visits with Chester high schools to bring students to Swarthmore’s campus to utilize resources such as our libraries and writing centers, and planning a community launch tentatively scheduled for March 29, 2019.

The VCDC aims to be a central hub for collegiate student leaders from surrounding universities, such as Swarthmore College, Widener University, Delaware County Community College, Pennsylvania State University, Cheyney University, Neumann University, and University of Pennsylvania. As a collective, they will act as a source of  mentorship and academic support to the Chester community.

In what Thomas refers to as the “brainchild” of the three core members, VCDC is a cooperative collaboration and mixture of the core member’s ideas, visions, and experiences when it comes to educational access.

“We all came together from our variety of experiences and interests. Luckily we found each other and decided to come together in the fall semester and really work on the project. For me, I wanted to start the mentee-mentor relationship program between Swarthmore students and Chester high school students,” said Thomas.

Upon realizing his goals for the Swarthmore community, Thomas was put into contact with Wei, who gained firsthand experience with Chester’s access to resources as a  Chester Community Fellow in 2018.

“Over the summer, I had the opportunity to work with Chester on creating a new college access center after their old one got shut down,” Wei said. “Through that experience, I realized there were a lot of connections that could have been made between the way that college resources are concentrated in certain geographic locations. For me, growing up in different college towns, I have always thought about that relationship and the divide between the two communities.”

Wei also got in touch with Peterson at a grantee reflection hosted by the Lang Center for students they provided funding to over the summer. The two connected because their summers were spent towards trying to better educational access and began discussing their ideas.

“I felt like there was a lot that could be done before transitioning to college because it is obvious that a majority of college spaces are predominantly white. I wanted to continue to do direct service while I was at Swat by trying to help minority and low-income students better navigate these spaces. Once I met Yi, she introduced me to TJ and we kind of just started bouncing ideas off of each other,” said Peterson.

VCDC’s goals are to promote college access through further engaging the Swarthmore community with the lower resourced communities they are entering. In understanding the relationship that exists between college communities such as Swarthmore and lower resourced communities like Chester, VCDC aims to address these differences by having the college students in these surrounding communities get involved.

“It started out, conceptually, as a really student driven initiative in order to create this community relationship between the college and the neighboring low-resource communities because we know there has been a problematic history that has existed between the Swarthmore and Chester community among other communities in Delaware County as well,” said Wei. “We have a lot of different moving parts and projects thinking about how we can improve and support college access resources as students in college.”  

This semester, the VCDC core team, which also includes core intern Yolanda Hu ’22, communications liaison Kaavya Arakoni ’21 and treasurer Eaindray Aung ’21, has been spreading the word of their initiative in the form of tabeling Swarthmore’s activity fairs, putting various fliers around campus, and making Facebook posts. Through their efforts, VCDC has recruited, received funding from, and worked with various student groups, such as Dare2Soar and Let’s Get Ready, the Swarthmore education department via a CBL class, SGO, and the Lang Center for Civic Responsibility advisors such as Ashley Henry.

VCDC is aware that they are only a small contribution to creating a more engaged college access program for lower resourced communities. With that in mind, according to Thomas, VCDC has been working with Chester community members and more experienced counselors to create an advising community for them to collaborate and receive guidance from.

“We are in the process of crafting an advisory board. Even though we would like this initiative to be a mainly student driven project, we only have two more years here. We need people who have experience and knowledge that can provide guidance and allow us to bounce ideas off of,” said Thomas.

The VCDC directors also aim to to generate morale and introduce programs geared towards informing the Swarthmore community.

“Our Fall 2018 semester has been devoted to developing a comprehensive and ethically engaging training program AND a campus-inclusive workshop program that brings Chester youths onto Swarthmore’s campus, both of which will be launching in the spring,” said the VCDC core team in a team email.

On February 3, 2019, VCDC held a campus wide training session as the first installment of their Teach-In series. The teach-in consisted of three workshops, Positionality and Privilege, Trauma and Self Care, and The Role of the Volunteer (How Involved Should You Be?). While it was a public event, VCDC urged their volunteers to attend as a means to further educate themselves on the communities they are entering and their roles as mentors.  

While most of the fall semester was aimed towards gathering the Swarthmore community’s attention and developing VCDC, the spring semester is the time the VCDC core feels their vision will come to fruition.

“We understand that there have been people who have been doing this work much longer than we have and we are just students, but we want to help in anyway we can whether that be providing volunteers or just brainstorming with other people from the community,” said Peterson. “We want to add a new perspective to the conversation which is the student. We recognize our privilege at Swat, the resources we have, and understand how we can help other students in Chester create sustainable programs.”

As VCDC is still planning and organizing their “brain child,” they are looking to the Swarthmore community to offer future events or projects and a helping hand. Through their promotions and various events approaching this semester, such as a forum with their other college partners and after-school programming at the Chester high schools, VCDC is generating a call to action to their peers.  

“It is definitely a call to action. We are always assessing and reassessing how effective we are being, and I think we recognize that we want as many people to be involved as possible, but also that we are collective. Regardless of your perspective, we are very open and willing to talk to and support others along with promoting events you believe are beneficial, so please get involved,” said Peterson.  

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