Values for Positive Community Engagement

Earlier this school year, I wrote a piece about Inez Johnson ‘25, who had recently been awarded a year-long “Engaged Athlete Fellowship” by “The Team.” As you may recall, Inez, a politics and sociology double major, is a cross country and track student athlete, and also a long time advocate for voter engagement. As part of her fellowship this year, Inez has worked to strengthen the existing relationships Bates athletic teams have with community organizations and to support other teams in developing new community partnerships.

I recently sat down with Inez to get the details on some of the work that unfolded over the course of this academic year. She shared these updates on specific teams:

  • Field hockey, a team that always does a lot of community engagement work, has been volunteering at the Store Next Door, an organization that offers clothes, school and hygiene supplies, gift cards, and even nonperishable food at no cost to the homeless youth who attend Lewiston Public Schools. The organization, which is 100% donation based, welcomes volunteers from the Bates Field Hockey team two times a week every other week. Volunteers help sort and organize donations and assist “shoppers” who come into the store. During the upcoming Short Term, Field Hockey players will also team up with the Boys and Girls Club to offer field hockey lessons.
  • On the lacrosse front, Women’s Lax has been spending time with the elderly residents at Meadowview, a public housing community in Lewiston, and they’ll join the men’s team in offering a community lacrosse clinic in April. Speaking of Men’s Lax, thanks to a newly appointed Community Liaison, the team has been helping to cook and serve Sunday brunches at Blake Street Towers, another public housing community not far from campus.
  • The Women’s volleyball team has been using their community-engaged energies to offer two weekend clinics that encourage young kids to try volleyball and also to embrace fitness as an overall goal.
  • The Bates Rowing teams are working to strengthen connections to the river stewardship initiatives of the Androscoggin Land Trust. Given that the teams row daily on the Androscoggin, this is a great fit for them.
  • And of course, the Bates Track and Field and Cross Country teams (Inez’s teams), have been up to plenty, with a focus on weekly volunteering with the Lewiston High School track and field program, where Bates students serve as mentors – leading warm ups, stretches, and also just giving advice and encouragement. “We have been explaining what it is like to be a successful college athlete. At the same time, we are a playful team and have also been participating in Playground Pals and the lunch mentorship program at the middle school from time to time. Just harnessing the team culture.”

Understanding team culture has been vital for Inez’s fellowship. “I think the fellowship has given me a good sense of how clearly team culture and team leadership manifest both within practice/competition and also when it comes to community engagement. In meeting with lots of different teams and working with my own, I’ve learned that the values that make teams successful — a collective mindset, willingness to build generative relationships, and commitment to higher goals — are what really matter for positive community engagement.” Community engagement is of course not something that can be forced, but by encouraging teams to play to their own strengths, it can make it a much more organic activity that becomes both helpful to the team and  the community,

I also asked Inez what changes she has seen in teams’ approaches or commitment to community engagement after a year of working with them. “One of my hopes at the beginning of the fellowship was to help community engagement become embedded within teams. Some teams already had this, whereas for other teams it’s a relatively new phenomenon. We’ve definitely seen progress this year, and while I don’t want to take credit for that — I’m just a facilitator, for the most part – I think my being there as a resource might have made some teams feel empowered to develop initiatives.” 

It is safe to say that Inez has made the most of her fellowship year. Happily, as the fellowship concludes, Inez’s commitment to the work will continue. “Going forward, I think my long term goal is definitely making these partnerships and programs ongoing and sustainable. My fellowship with The Team will end this year, culminating in a summit in D.C. where I get to hear from other athlete fellows at other schools about their experiences and projects, which will be cool, but I don’t want the work to end there. It’s been so fun to get people and teams excited about community engagement opportunities, so my hope is to keep building upon this work next year! Also, this fall is another general election, so I’m hoping to synthesize the ideas of being part of a bigger community — community engagement and civic engagement — into programming where teams are empowered as advocates and voters.” Inez mentioned that the work she has done may not be as “flashy” as some of her fellowship peers, but she is proud to note that her work is very much sustainable. Once embedded in the team’s culture, the hope is for it to gradually take root itself without outside guidance. As Inez heads into her senior year at Bates, there is no doubt that she will continue channeling her passions into engagement – both on and off the field.