Covid-19 Prompts Changes to Community Engagement

Certain elements of community engagement are projected to change for the 2020-2021 school year due to the Covid-19 pandemic. According to Monique Cueto-Potts, Director of Community Engagement, Andover’s social distancing guidelines currently restrict both physical contact and travel to and from community partners. Cueto-Potts noted that all remaining community engagement options will now transition to alternative, remote programming. 

“The global pandemic requires that everyone keeps distance from other people. We cannot have community partners come to campus and cannot bring students off-campus. Of our more than 30 programs, nearly all of them usually involve our students directly engaging with other people, and that simply is not possible right now. We are trying to keep everyone healthy and safe, so we are doing the best we can to offer what we can given the many limitations that we are working within,” said Cueto-Potts. 

New options, such as recorded musical performances at senior centers and videos for the Youth Development Organization, serve as weekly opportunities for students to connect with community partners. However, many in-person programs have been terminated for the foreseeable future. Cueto-Potts additionally noted that the community engagement office will work more with dormitory communities. 

“Other programming changes include more outreach to dorms so that dorm pods can do one-time projects together in their dorms. Bishop, Double Brick, and Alumni House residents currently are writing out about 200 postcards to voters in Georgia for the Reclaim Our Vote campaign, and Stearns residents will be packaging menstrual product supplies for our longtime community partner Lazarus House. We also are planning some one-time opportunities on campus when it is safe to do so, like creating care packages for community partners or craft kits for children who are in hospitals,” said Cueto-Potts. 

Students who have previously participated in community engagement programs expressed their understanding to these adaptations. While Lauren Cormier ’23 found it unfortunate that her community engagement program is no longer available, she plans on joining Adopt a Platoon. 

Cormier said, “Last year, I was in the program where we went down to Academy Manor, a senior center, once a week and I would visit one of the old ladies there. It’s a lot of fun. I think that the fact that it’s remote makes it pretty hard, but overall they’re doing a decent job with it. This is the best adaptation that we can do.”

According to Cueto-Potts, a crucial element of community engagement has always been the close bonds between students and community partners. She hopes to restore the programs to normalcy once it is safe to do so. 

“Having students and community partners work directly with each other in over 30 programs every week is the heart and soul of our programming. Not being able to do that is devastating and disappointing. However, we cannot work outside the necessary protocols that [Andover] and our community partners have in place to keep everyone safe. While I obviously would prefer to be watching hundreds of students build meaningful and mutually-beneficial relationships with our amazing community partners, we simply have no choice but to do what we are doing. As soon as it is safe to do so, we absolutely will be back with our community partners, and I cannot wait for that day to come,” said Cueto-Potts.

Despite these changes, Cueto-Potts encourages students to understand the value of community engagement and embody Non Sibi spirit in their everyday lives.

“Non Sibi is a way of life, not a program. This situation is not ideal, but it is a great opportunity for students to realize that ‘community engagement’ does not always have to be a program organized through our office with awesome community partners that meets every week at a specific time. Ask if there is a way you can help any campus adult. Every single adult is going above and beyond right now to make this whole experience possible for students. Take care of each other. This is what community engagement is really all about,” said Cueto-Potts.

Spreading Non Sibi outside Andover, Somen Chakrabortti ’22 has worked to assist local elders in Hong Kong. Though Chakrabortti is remote for Fall term, he is excited to participate in community engagement programming with his dorm upon his return.

Chakrabotti said, “I think it’s important to live by the Non Sibi spirit, regardless of where you are at the moment. I am currently helping the local elderly back in my hometown of Hong Kong and am looking to assist my dorm in serving the community soon.”