Community-Based Learning

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Caitlin Kidder and Neighbors Helping Neighbors, South Hadley's Food Pantry

Mar 07, 2013 by Lauren Quirici

Salmon eggs were Caitlin Kidder’s first order of business in her Community-Based Learning (CBL) career. Working with the Mosier School in South Hadley, Kidder developed a working seventy-page curriculum for the Atlantic Salmon Egg Rearing Project (ASERP), a program that promotes environmental responsibility by letting kids nurture, raise and release the fish into local waterways.  Knowing that it was her last year, Kidder realized that implementing the curriculum was a bigger project than she had time left for, and decided to leave it as her legacy to be carried out by a future CBL fellow.

This decision left Kidder in search of a new way to participate in the South Hadley community.  When Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the South Hadley food pantry, called Mount Holyoke in search of volunteers, Kidder and the CBL program saw the perfect opportunity to give the pantry a fellow of their very own.  As a relatively new organization, the pantry could use Kidder’s technical training to help work out their organizational kinks, and Kidder would get some hands-on experience with the real-world ins and outs of non-profit management.  The arrangement would ultimately form of strong bonds between Kidder and members of the pantry’s crew, helping the connections between Mount Holyoke College and the town of South Hadley to grow.  

To help clarify her objectives with Neighbors Helping Neighbors, Kidder explains that non-profits face a unique challenge in balancing the urgent demands of their cause (in this case, getting food to those in need) and addressing the underlying issues that create the need in the first place.

Kidder relates an interesting metaphor used by CBL director Alan Bloomgarden to help illustrate the issue. “Non-profits are rescuing the babies who are drowning in the river… but who’s throwing the babies?”  Kidder explains.  “What I perceive my role to be is to look at the bigger picture and figure out who’s throwing the babies in the river,” she says with a chuckle at the metaphor’s intensity.  Kidder plans to tackle the problem by using her education in non-profit management to refine the pantry’s organizational structure.  “The [food pantry directors] don’t get the training in non-profits that we do in the CBL program, so I’m happy to use my semi-expertise to help them.” 

Kidder’s first big project with Neighbors Helping Neighbors was to assist in the organization of the Martin Luther King Day food drive that took place this past January.  The food drive was a resounding success, and that was just the beginning.  She plans to assist in recruiting new volunteers, event planning, grant writing, and other fundraising efforts, and  even has plans to help the pantry become a legally recognized non-profit organization.  “These are overarching, huge goals” she recognizes with a good-natured laugh.  “We’ll see how much I can get accomplished…It’s my last semester here.”  Considering Kidder’s record, it’s safe to say that the pantry will have made some big steps forward by the time she gets her diploma this May.  

Kidder works closely on the project with Sue Brouillette, a class of ‘86 Frances Perkins alum.  Brouillette, recently retired from her position as a teacher at South Hadley High, continues to provide her services to the school as a tutor in addition to working with Neighbors Helping Neighbors.  She even manages the large plot belonging to the food pantry in the South Hadley community garden, using her own time and money to provide pantry clients with fresh produce.  “She does everything,” Kidder says in admiration.  

Excited to help with the garden this summer, Kidder plans to continue working with the pantry after her time at Mount Holyoke comes to an end.  “Even after I graduate…I know I’m going to be involved,” she says assuredly.  “Sue…treats me like a daughter, and I feel really connected to [the pantry] now.”  

Kidder’s successful connection with Brouillette and the others at Neighbors Helping Neighbors is a great example of the impact that the Community-Based Learning program can have.  The work of this CBL fellow is not only making a measurable difference in the community, but is paving the way for the program to grow in its efficiency, focus, and connection to South Hadley.  Though we’ll miss her when she graduates, the work Kidder has done to help advance the program has ensured that she won’t be soon forgotten!


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