Seven-member collaborative launches downtown education center

The Downtown Education Collaborative (DEC), a local partnership of seven academic and community institutions, will open a new storefront education center at 219 Lisbon St. in January 2008. DEC’s mission is to pursue education partnerships in and with Lewiston’s downtown residential community. Its members include the four colleges of the Lewiston-Auburn area — Andover College, Bates College, Central Maine Community College and the University of Southern Maine’s Lewiston-Auburn College — as well as the Lewiston Public Library, Lewiston Adult Education and Empower Lewiston.

For two years, the partners met together to plan an initiative that would bring their resources to the downtown community, work collaboratively with community partners and one another, create a downtown space that could help to build community capacity, and get the four “Colleges of the Androscoggin” working together.

“Can you imagine it?” said Karl Trautman, the representative of Central Maine Community College about the DEC coalition. “With the opening of our new center, we will have the opportunity to offer team-taught service-learning classes where students from all of our colleges can work together with community partners to meet community needs. I can envision clinics and internships, community research projects, open space for downtown community meetings and drop-in services. I think DEC enables all of us to work with the downtown community in ways that none could do separately.”

“We think that this model of inter-college cooperation mixed with community partnership represents something new in American higher education and something new for Lewiston-Auburn,” said Michelle Vazquez Jacobus of USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College. “All the DEC partners were doing innovative community work, but we hadn’t figured out how to do it together. We had a thousand dots, but we weren’t connecting them. Now we can envision all kinds of important projects: research into community health, computer projects that teach grass-roots groups how to use digital technologies, education programs for both new immigrants and older Mainers.”

The DEC partners are hiring a full-time administrator to direct the downtown education center and lead community-based education projects and programs. He or she will be responsible for working with the DEC collaborators and other community partners to organize education projects, oversee programs offered at the center and open the center to community events and initiatives. The launch and staffing of the center are made possible, in part, with a three-year, $132,000 grant from the Jessie B. Cox Charitable Trust to the Bates College Harward Center for Community Partnerships for the support of the whole DEC coalition.

“DEC is committed to a vision of community education that is collaborative, empowering, and place-based. That is why we needed a space right in downtown Lewiston,” said Christine Lashua, the representative of Andover College in the collaborative. “The Cox Trust grant enables DEC to open and staff such a center.” The Cox Trust funding will be administered by the Harward Center, but the downtown center and its director will be responsible to the whole seven-member collaborative.

“We want the downtown center at 219 Lisbon St. to be at once a home and a crossroads, a place where educators and community partners can work together in new ways,” said David Scobey, the director of Bates’ Harward Center for Community Partnerships. “We think that everyone – the downtown community, our students, and our institutions – can benefit from DEC.”

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