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Crossing the Bridge: Stephanie Maitre and the South Hadley Youth Commission

Feb 14, 2013 by Lauren Quirici

Stephanie Maitre is passionate about bridging gaps.

  Maitre is a CBL fellow who works with the South Hadley Youth Commission.  Created to bring a sense of fellowship to the town of South Hadley, the Youth Commission has helped make community-building fun and interesting for students and town residents alike.  Maitre, who has been working hard to foster a sense of fellowship within South Hadley, is ready to expand that community spirit beyond the boundaries of our little New England town.

The Youth Commission, which operates out of an office in the South Hadley High School building, works primarily with middle and high school students in the town.  Each student who volunteers to participate has the responsibility of organizing a community event or collaboration.  The projects range from mural painting and community gardening to events like the recent Winter Carnival.  The carnival featured booths set up by local businesses and organizations, cookie decorating, bookmark-making, and raffles.  Local restaurants donated food, and there was even a performance by Maitre and the rest of Mount Holyoke’s own A Cappella group, the V-8s.  

Concurrently, Maitre is organizing a series of workshops for the high school students through the Youth Commission.   Taught by Mount Holyoke students, the workshops will educate students on various topics and skills, such as leadership and the arts.  After the high school students attend a number of these workshops, they will begin to create their own series of workshops on topics of their choice to offer to the South Hadley community.  

While the Youth Commission has had the intended positive effect on South Hadley as a whole, Maitre sees an even greater potential in the organization.  She thinks it’s time to focus on awakening the town’s youth to the rich cultural diversity that they aren’t even aware is in their midst.  

When Maitre brought a group of sophomores from the high school to Mount Holyoke’s LEAP Symposium, she noted how shocked they were to see how much diversity the college had. “They didn’t really know much about it,” Maitre says.  “Mount Holyoke is right next to the high school, and they don’t know that there are…so many people and groups here that they can connect with.”  The simple reality is that South Hadley, being 96% white, gets little exposure to cultural diversity.  Mount Holyoke, as rich a cultural oasis as it may be, hasn’t yet succeeded in dispersing its influence throughout the town it calls home.  Maitre is determined to change that.  

Maitre’s realization prompted her to organize a program called “Diversity Days.”  Financed by the MHC Inclusive Initiatives Fund (thanks to Maitre’s efforts), the program will bring groups of South Hadley High sophomores to the school to hear a panel of representatives from the various cultural houses at Mount Holyoke.  “They’ll learn about diversity and inclusion, and what [it] means to be a minority in the United States,” she explains. 

Maitre is also using her involvement with the Youth Commission to help deconstruct the barriers that exist between South Hadley and the neighboring town of Holyoke.  “There isn’t much of a relationship between the communities, and I thought a really fun way of getting them connected would be through the youth commission,” she relates.  Led by Maitre, the two youth organizations are brainstorming creative ideas for an art project, party or other event to celebrate the towns’ younger populations coming together.    The bridge between Holyoke and South Hadley is being considered as a potential site for the collaboration’s first event.  “It separates but connects both communities,” Maitre says, acknowledging that the site’s powerful symbolic potential.

  Maitre is one of six CBL fellows who work within the town of South Hadley.  More posts are in the works regarding the rest of our South Hadley team and the great work that they’re doing here in town.   Look out for the next post on Caitlin Kidder’s work with Neighbors Helping Neighbors, the local food pantry, as well as updates on Stephanie Maitre’s progress with the Youth Commission (Don’t you want to find out how the bridge-party goes?  I know I do!).


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