Student Leaders launch Volunteer Council of Delaware County (VCDC) to Support College Access Services

Posted by Volunteer Council of Delaware County on April 22, 2019

The Volunteer Council of Delaware County (VCDC), an intercollegiate organization of student leaders from Delaware County area college and universities, is building a network to support student groups across seven campuses: Swarthmore College, Widener University, Delaware County Community College, Penn State, Cheyney University, Neumann Univeristy, and the University of Pennsylvania. In January, I visited Swarthmore to meet with the core leadership team Maleyah Peterson, Terence Thomas, and Yi Wei, to learn about their plans as they prepare to launch the network.

Caitlin: What are your initial plans as you are preparing to launch VCDC?

Yi: We are looking to improve the training of college student volunteers who support low resource communities, particularly in Chester. We see a need for more comprehensive, culturally-connected training that addresses privilege and positionality. We want to see trainings that are grounded in an understanding of the lived experiences of the communities in which our volunteers serve and works to mitigate harm.  We want to humanize our trainings so we have more conscious tutors.

Maleyah: We are working towards a Sunday teach-in (from 11:00 – 2:30) for college student volunteers from our network. After food and opening remarks introducing VCDC, we will host a workshop on positionality and privilege, facilitated by student leaders.

Terence: We are also including a workshop on trauma and self-care. We would like volunteers to understand how trauma affects a community. In addition, we want to focus on how to process trauma instead of internalizing it. As volunteers, it is important to take care of ourselves too, so we can be the most effective in our service, and it is not wrong if you want to take a step back.

Yi: We are also developing a workshop on the role of a volunteer. What do high school students need? What can volunteers provide? What are the resources available? What conflicts or problems might volunteers encounter? This workshop will be led by two high school counselors from the Chester-Upland School District. The workshop will be more discussion-based, not just a lecture. At the end of the training we also want to make sure we leave plenty of time for reflection.

Caitlin: What has been your process developing these workshops? Why did you decide on these particular topics, and how did you create the content?

Yi: We had over 70 (seventy) conversations or meetings with student leaders, administrators, professors, and outside organizations. For the privilege and positionality workshop, we are working with student leaders from Swarthmore’s Intercultural Center and the Black Cultural Center.

Maleyah: We also have an Advisory Board that consists of professors, staff, and college access providers. We recognize the need to engage multiple perspectives and acknowledge the work of those who have done this before. We want to learn from previous efforts– what has worked and what didn’t work? We want to be flexible, and provide support where needed. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

Terence: Yes, we are very passionate about this work, but we know we aren’t the only ones doing this. We want to make sure we are turning to experts in the community. We have also been receiving a lot of guidance and mentorship from Swarthmore professor, Dr. Mark Wallace.

Caitlin: What are your plans beyond this initial teach-in?

Terence: This won’t be the only conversation. We want to be strategic and have a series of trainings and events, so this is more of a continuous process. To support this we are creating a high school point team of volunteers to talk to students and counselors to figure out what they want out of their volunteers.

Maleyah: The college access field is really collaborative. We continue to expand our community partners and are constantly reaching out to them about future trainings and needs. We know we can’t think of everything.

Caitlin: How else do you see VCDC providing support?

Yi: We are hoping to make college resources more accessible. We want to an arsenal of information and resources on this work. We see ourselves as somewhat of a research think tank, gathering information and feedback from counselors, teachers, and students in the communities our volunteers are serving, so as to constantly inform not only our process, but the relationship between institutions of higher education and the community.

Terence: We would also like to support more opportunities for Chester youth to visit Swarthmore, for more than just the campus tour experience. We like to show students that college is a place where you can explore your passions. We plan to include various places on campus, such as our arts recording studio. We would also like to support Swarthmore students in visits to the school before the trips, to build relationships with the students and ease any nervousness they may have.

Caitlin: One challenge of such student-driven work on college campuses is sustainability. What are your plans to ensure VCDC lives on after you graduate?

Yi: We are student-driven but we are also thinking about sustainability. We have a student core, but we also have core faculty and staff at the institutions that we work with. We’ve thought a lot about how to build relationships between higher eds and K-12 schools, and this process is continually evolving.  We want this to exist within higher education, but not necessarily represent high ed. A distinction has to be made so that it can be truly collaborative.

Terence: Sustainability is definitely important to us. We are expanding our core leadership team and cultivating new student leaders. We want this to be a free space for new ideas so we can adapt to a changing landscape.

Maleyah: Another important piece is consistent collaboration and communication. We host frequent point team meetings, and have a monthly student leader meeting where we provide updates to the entire organization. Collectively we review our timeline and progress towards our common goals. This semester we have really been working smarter and getting more students engaged. We are aware of the time commitment of this work and recognize that is not for everyone, so we are also thinking about other ways our peers can get involved.

Caitlin: Lastly, tell me a little about yourselves. What motivates you all to do this work?

Terence:  I’m originally form Detroit, where I was an Eagle Scout. Here at Swarthmore I am studying pre-law, work at the Black Cultural Center, and am a Class Senator in the Student Government. In high school, an upperclassmen was recommended to me as a mentor, who nurtured my strong work ethic. Because I saw the impact a mentor/mentee relationship can have first hand, I’ve developed a passion for connecting others to resources.

Yi: I moved from China to the U.S. when I was two-years-old and lived near the campuses of Ohio State and Princeton before coming to Swarthmore. While living near these institutions, I saw the inequity and lack of responsibility and accountability to the communities neighboring these institutions, particularly in schools. Originally I wanted to go into teaching, but I did a fellowship at the Chester Education Foundation and was inspired by how they have brought folks from many different perspectives together around college access. Now I am inspired to go into education policy. I’m an English Honors major, with minors in sociology and education. I write poetry, and also have a podcast “A Bitch’s Guide to Books.”

Maleyah: I’m an Honors Sociology major with a minor in Education Studies. I grew up in Brooklyn, and I’ve always wanted to be a lawyer. In 8th grade I started going to a rigorous academic summer law institute run by Legal Outreach, a local nonprofit. I learned the basics of law and met lawyers and law students. Part of Legal Outreach was a college bound program during the summer and Saturdays that provided SAT prep and professional networking. Legal Outreach was not just a program, but a community that went above and beyond. When I arrived at Swarthmore, I reached out to Legal Outreach to work with them for my LANG Center Summer Social Internship. On campus, I am President of Students of Caribbean Ancestry, where I work to raise awareness of the cultural experiences of students who have lived in, or have families from the Caribbean here on campus.

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