As director of the Mother Maria Kaupas Center, I work with the Bucknell University Coal Region Field Station to facilitate professional connections between the university (faculty, staff and students) and local community partners that lead to substantive course projects and individual research in the Mount Carmel area. I regret that it is necessary to respond to recent negative and uninformed or misinformed comments about Bucknell students that have appeared in Sound Off.
Since the Kaupas-Bucknell partnership was launched in 2015, more than 300 students have worked on a total of 55 projects in eastern Northumberland County, with the vast majority of these projects occurring in the Mount Carmel area. Also, to date, 25 student interns and research assistants have also done work in the area through the Field Station.
Here are some of the initiatives in our community undertaken by Bucknell students:
• A study of Mount Carmel Area Food Pantry operations that led to improved storage, development of a stronger volunteer base and reformatting of the distribution line to better serve clients.
• Projects over three successive years to identify recreation needs, working with the borough to create a citizens recreation committee and developing a plan for reopening of the community swimming pool. These efforts led to the highly successful reopening of the pool in the summer of 2018.
• Creation of a visual identity and a new website, gomountcarmel.com, for Mount Carmel Downtown Inc. This is especially significant because MCDI has become a leading force for progress in our community.
• An analysis of Mount Carmel Area Public Library’s operations to identify new approaches for the library in attaining financial stability while developing more programs to benefit patrons in its service area.
• Engagement with interested citizens to develop a plan for sustainability of the Mount Carmel Community Garden. With healthy community participation, the garden could not only supplement food needs of the growers but also provide produce for the pantry and, the school district’s Buddy Bag program.
Bucknell students have worked on projects to target blight, create an afterschool program, celebrate heritage, develop a walking trail and a Mount Carmel historic walk (both still in progress), study church architecture, explore aspects of the addiction problem and the opioid crisis and revitalize a greenhouse at the high school. Some initiatives are advanced in increments by different students in succeeding semesters. Last summer’s Institute for Sustainable Technology worked on local solar energy studies and food pantry projects.
Each and every course project undertaken by Bucknell in the Mount Carmel area was identified by community partners, and the parameters and goals for each project were developed as a result of dialogues between the university and community stakeholders.
The Coal Region Field Station has defined its mission in this way: “By engaging in collaborative, real-world projects addressing community-identified needs, students will become engaged and responsible leaders who respect and value the knowledge and experience of diverse groups, while partner organizations are empowered to enact their visions for thriving, prosperous communities.”
Each project students have tackled has helped our community either through tangible improvements or giving community partners the information they need to carry initiatives forward to completion.
In addition to service learning projects, Bucknell has also helped Mount Carmel in other ways, for example:
• The Kaupas Camp for middle school students benefits from athletic clinics conducted on a volunteer basis by Bucknell coaches and their staffs. Kaupas Camp students visit the campus in Lewisburg for four of the camp days where they participate in clinics on the state-of-the-art athletic fields and enjoy enrichment programs provided by Bucknell staff.
• Bucknell Athletics Department sponsors an Education Day in the winter for middle school students and a free swim clinic conducted there by athletes on the swim team.
• Bucknell helps the Deppen Day committee connect with Bucknell alumni from Mount Carmel. Representatives of the Bucknell Department of Art and Art History handle children’s crafts at the Deppen Day event.
• Bucknell faculty members have assisted the community in developing valuable contacts with the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way and a charitable organization operated by inmates at SCI-Coal Township. The organization at the prison has become the largest donor to the Kaupas Camp and a generous contributor to the Mount Carmel Area Food Pantry.
• Students from the Catholic Campus Ministry program at Bucknell visit Mount Carmel two or three weekends each calendar year to provide volunteer service in the community.
Bucknell cannot revitalize the community all by itself, nor should it be expected to. Likewise, a group of students from a university 35 miles away cannot be expected to change our world in one semester, especially when each student probably has three or four additional courses of similar workload and complexity.
Lasting solutions to what ails our town must come from the people who live here, including chronic naysayers and the people whose community engagement is restricted to anonymous complaint calls in Sound Off. It’s easy to belly-ache. Heaven has a place for those who roll up their sleeves and work with others to make life better for all of us.
I invite anyone and everyone to contact me at the Kaupas Center with any questions, suggestions or concerns, or for more information.