The McKeen Center’s Local Impact

At a town council meeting last week in Brunswick, McKeen Center Director Sarah Seames and Bowdoin junior Courtney Chuang described some of the many ways in which Bowdoin’s community gives back to the local community. They also spoke about how, in turn, Brunswick plays “an important role in a Bowdoin education,” according to Seames.

Bowdoin’s McKeen Center for the Common Good is the hub for most of the College’s community engagement. The center facilitates community service and community-based research opportunities for students, faculty and staff, building long-lasting partnerships between Bowdoin and nearby organizations.

Seames told the councilors that each year, over 1,000 students engage with communities in Maine and across the world. Some of these volunteers go out for just one day of volunteer work on Common Good Day. Others do so on a more committed basis, returning to volunteer at organizations weekly, biweekly or monthly throughout the year.

In Maine, over 450 students — about a quarter of Bowdoin’s student population — each year are involved in on-going or regular community service. Much of this work happens in Brunswick, where more than 200 students help out at schools, environmental organizations, social service agencies, medical facilities, town governments and more. All together, this involvement adds up to more than 50,000 hours of service provided by Bowdoin students each year, according to Seames.

Chuang attended the council meeting to talk more personally about her paid summer fellowship at Brunswick’s soup kitchen and food bank, Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program. “Last summer when I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my time, I decided that I really wanted to get to know the community of Brunswick,” said Chuang, who is from California. She worked at the center for 10 weeks, full time, funded by a Community Matters in Maine grant. “I think what I loved most about working at Mid Coast was working with [executive director] Karen Parker and seeing her excitement at really tackling some of the difficult issues of food insecurity in Maine. She challenged me to be independent, creative and resourceful.”

Chuang developed a communications plan for the nonprofit and created a map of the Maine farms that donate food to MCHPP. She also helped to provide meals to Brunswick children during the summer when subsidized school lunches aren’t available. “I got to see how Mainers really rally for other Mainers,” she said.

At the end of her presentation, Chuang told the council members, “I hope that gives you a taste at how meaningful this experience was for me.”

Councilor Sarah Brayman mentioned that she had seen the same students “week after week” volunteering at Brunswick’s Tedford shelter, which provides housing for homeless people. “You have some terrific volunteers who really put their time and effort into the community over a long period of time,” she said.

Correction to video: Sarah Seames has worked at Bowdoin for nine years, coordinating student volunteer programs. She was appointed director of the McKeen Center last year, succeeding previous director Susie Dorn.

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