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Volunteers sought for Bridging Along Beall

Nate Addington, director of civic and social responsibility at the College of Wooster, is part of the committee that created an initiative focused on encouraging and enhancing dialogue between college students and the Wooster community.

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"The College of Wooster, the community of Wooster, the two don't always see eye to eye. No one knows how to talk to each other anymore," Nate Addington said.
 
Addington, director of civic and social responsibility at the College of Wooster, is part of the committee that created an initiative focused on encouraging and enhancing dialogue between college students and the Wooster community.
 
The program received a highly competitive $5,000 grant award for the project. A committee consisting of Addington, four faculty members and a student intern developed Bridging Along Beall.
 
Volunteers are being sought until Dec. 15 from both the college student population and local area communities. Those selected will participate in three group meals and a community service project between January and March of 2018.
 
There is no cost to participants. All meals are catered, and a trained facilitator will guide all discussions.
 
The project proposal describes the goal of Bridging Along Beall as follows: "Civil conversation that broaches important political issues, framed around finding common ground and identifying each other’s values, can break down stereotypes of ‘others’ and build common understanding. It is far harder to dismiss particular ideas and cling to stereotypes if you have gotten to know someone who embraces those ideas or violates those stereotypes."
 
What does that mean? It means that student volunteers and community volunteers of diverse political opinions will be paired together to get to know each other and engage in meaningful dialogue.
 
Participating pairs will be put into five groups with three pairs each. These groups will share catered meals together and engage in political discussions moderated by a trained facilitator.
 
One meal will be held on campus and another at a site in the community. The third will be a coming together of everyone involved in a meal of celebration and debriefing. Additionally, participants will create ways to share their experiences with the campus community and with those in the larger community.
 
The grant, from a group called Campus Compact, was one of only 40 awarded from a pool of about 400 proposals.
 
"I'm a believer that there are some things that help people come together: food and service," Addington said.
 
In between the first and second shared meals, volunteers will work together on a community service project.
 
The United Way of Wayne and Holmes Counties is partnering with the initiative for the day of shared service.
 
"We hope to find something that people might find to be an important, shared issue," Addington said. "For instance political views may be different, but we all can agree that kids shouldn't be hungry in school."
 
Both students and community members who are interested in participating will take the same application survey and be screened by the same process. A paper or online application asks questions regarding demographics, community involvement, political-party affiliation and political beliefs.
 
"I feel like sometimes when we get uncomfortable, we shut down," Addington said, emphasizing it's in that uncomfortable zone that growth often happens. He explained that often when faced with an unfamiliar or uncomfortable situation, the tendency is to retreat to one's own community, seeking a sense of safety and camaraderie.
 
"This one program can't change our culture. What we hope is that slowly and surely, 30 individuals at a time, we create different relationships," Addington said.
 
Through getting to know one another, sharing stories and finding common ground, the hope is that people share what they have learned and how their perspective has shifted.
 
"The whole idea is to create allies so over time culture shift can happen through encounter," Addington said.
 
Addington described the situation in Wooster as an example of what is happening in the country as a whole.
 
"Wooster is a great microcosm of the entire country in a good way," he said. "We have a very diverse population, a melting pot. We also see the negative side. There is really strong polarization in the community as well."
 
Community members are encouraged to apply for the no-cost opportunity to get to know and connect with a college student, bridge differences, and begin a dialogue of growth and change for the local community and the country.
 
Applications must be received by noon on Dec. 15. A paper copy of the application can be picked up in the office of diversity and inclusion in Babcock 114 on the College of Wooster campus. An online application can be found at www.bit.ly/2A3Xqj1.
 
In starting the project, Addington explained, "We just wanted to come up with something we can do that helps people talk to each other again."
 
The committee's hope is to extend the initiative beyond this initial experience to give more students and community members the opportunity to connect. For more information email Addington at naddington@wooster.edu">naddington@wooster.edu.
 

Published: December 7, 2017
New Article ID: 2017171209980