The Future of Civic Engagement at Colby

The Future of Civic Engagement at Colby

            I joined a suicide hotline when I was sixteen years old as one of the first trainees of the organization’s new program, a teens-helping-teens line. However, I ended up being one of only two teens in the training group, the rest of the prospective volunteers were for the adult line. I sat in a training room on four Saturdays and Sundays where the average age in the room was about 55, and I learned all about the most difficult calls we could experience and how to handle each and every situation. After my many weekends lost to classes, training shifts, and reflections, I was finally a certified member of the hotline. I was nervous, but I felt ready. Even though I was the youngest member of my training group, I felt supported by them and I think they also felt supported by me. 

            After all of this time, all of this training, my first ever call at the hotline was a hang up. The phone rang and I felt my whole body tense up. I had been training for this moment, and all that I learned flashed through my head. I picked up the phone and sheepishly said my first words, “Samaritans, may I help you?” Almost immediately the line dropped. Although this moment felt more like a slap in the face than a great and meaningful lesson at the time, I think I learned more from that hang up than I would have from an imminent risk caller. All of the training prepared me, a naïve sixteen-year-old, to handle the most important calls when in reality the vast majority of the callers are not in significant danger. However, when they were, I was ready.

            Coming to Colby and joining multiple volunteer organizations, I was surprised by how easy it was to become a volunteer. After one hour-long lecture, I was cleared to go into a school working with children who faced significantly more life challenges than I had. They were open with me about their complicated family situations and financial difficulties and asked me questions about my own, and I was faced with multiple difficult choices right from the beginning, choices that I did not feel I had the tools or training to be ready to handle the difficult situations I was placed in.

            Oxfam, in Education for Global Citizenship, emphasizes the importance of civic engagement, saying students aiming to become global citizens should, “develop ways to engage your local community using global citizenship, and invite community members to related events” and many colleges, Colby included, are working to increase their civic engagement. Colby takes pride in the number of students who volunteer, as it should, but perhaps we should shift our focus from quantity of volunteers to the quality of the interactions. Simply adding a larger number of volunteers in Waterville will not help residents; it is the higher number of quality interactions that will result in more mutually beneficial relationships. When I look at the future of Colby Cares about Kids (CCAK), I hope that it will move towards this change.

            With the civic engagement focus of the downtown dorm, Colby will inevitably have an even larger influx of volunteers into the community. However, this increase of volunteers will make no significant impact if our views of volunteering don’t shift. When talking about the ColourWorld School Programme, Rita Gazdag says that, “Before the first volunteer could enter schools a substantial amount of preparatory work needed to take place in order to assist schools.” This is the approach that I believe we should be taking at Colby. Training should be extensive, and prepare volunteers for real world challenges they could face so they are ready if they do. There must be a way to reflect and build upon these difficult experiences when they happen, and I love that the required class for the downtown dorm residents is trying to accomplish exactly this. There must be a support network of peers and those with higher training when challenges inevitably arise. And lastly, we must have a view that people in the Colby Community and Greater Waterville Community are equals, equally able to produce mutually beneficial relationships that are not simply thought of as charity work.


Education for Global Citizenship, Oxfam 2015

Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, 2007