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Go Forth to Serve, and Learn – Jessica Gagne Cloutier

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Jessica Gagne Cloutier, in center with Red Sox cap, works with first-year students during a PreServe cleanup of the Ashuelot River.
Jessica Gagne Cloutier, in center with Red Sox cap, works with first-year students during a PreServe cleanup of the Ashuelot River.

Keene State’s motto may be “Enter to learn … go forth to serve,” but when Jessica Gagne Cloutier, the College’s Coordinator of Community Service, sends students out to serve, she intends that they continue learning while they’re at it.

Her goal is to engage students in meaningful service, whether that be through teaching reading skills to local children or participating in the Alternative Break service trips that take place during the year. “Our vision is that we work with the community, not for the community,” she explained. “That’s the biggest change that I’ve tried to implement in the four years I’ve been here. I want to make sure that the work we’re doing is very intentional. I want to let the community guide us on what their needs are, so that we’re tapping into their assets and helping our students gain an appreciation for what it means to be an active citizen. And I want those students to gain the experience and knowledge to interact in a very diverse world.”

For example, her office’s early literacy programs not only train her tutors how to teach reading skills; participation as a tutor also teachs them important life lessons when they have to deal with children who are inadequately dressed or fed, or who come from home environments where there is domestic abuse, or alcoholism, or drug abuse. “Our students are learning how to deal with difficult situations, and the types of interventions they can use and what kind of changes will work,” Gagne Cloutier said.

The student-planned and directed Alternative Break trips allow them to travel to locations around the US or internationally and often involve themselves with such issues as hunger, homelessness, or farmworker’s rights. “We had a group in Selma, Alabama, this past spring, and I got a call from one of the students saying, ‘Jessica, racism is really real here,’” Gagne Cloutier said. “People don’t see that as much around here, but when they were in Selma it was very apparent. They dealt with those challenges every day they were there. So I’m proud of that aspect of our program that helps our students do better in the world, to be better citizens, and that makes the things that are happening in the world seem relevant to them. It helps them be part of it – to be part of change. It’s a big undertaking, and we do it in a lot of small ways.”

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