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Connect with Connecting Grinnellians

Connecting Grinnellians leads volunteer efforts in local Grinnell schools. Photo by Emma Mills.
Connecting Grinnellians leads volunteer efforts in local Grinnell schools. Photo by Emma Mills.

Connecting Grinnellians is a student organization that conducts projects in the Grinnell community working to address food insecurity, education support and enhancement and resource disparity. Connecting Grinnellians was pioneered by Carlos Piedrasanta ’20, who now serves as the group’s president, while he was working in a Service Learning Work Study (SLWS) position at the local high school.

Administrators of Grinnell High School asked if there was a possibility for college students to start some sort of tutoring relationship with students there. Out of this question emerged a tutoring and mentoring program with students from the high school. The organization soon expanded to mentoring at Grinnell Middle School and Davis Elementary.

Additionally, starting last fall, Connecting Grinnellians set up what they’ve called Invisible Closets in Grinnell schools. Stocked with all types of resources like food, clothing, hygiene products and school supplies, the Invisible Closets help provide resources and food anonymously to students who are low income or food insecure. About 40 percent of students in the Grinnell community are on lunch meal plans with their schools funded by Connecting Grinnellians.

“We serve as a liaison between the community and college. We try to utilize the resources we have access to at the College like funds and student volunteers to provide community members with resources that they may need to enact projects or issues of their own,” said Piedrasanta.

This semester, Connecting Grinnellians is working on a mural project at the middle school. To establish a lively atmosphere and counter the winter weather, students from the organization are designing and painting murals in the cafeteria, the main hallway and Invisible Closets that match the school’s themes and logos.

“What we want to do as an organization is provide an opportunity for students at the College to actually engage with the bigger community we’re a part of because we feel like it can really be a bubble, it can be easy to be uninformed. A lot of students don’t know about Connecting Grinnellians, we really want to get the word about what we do in hopes that it would attract more volunteers.” said Anika Jane Beamer ’22, vice president of Connecting Grinnellians.

The ACCESS program led by Connecting Grinnellians is comprised of the tutoring and closet programs in the high school and middle school, as well as the tutoring program at Davis Elementary. All projects were conceptualized by community members that approached Connecting Grinnellians to work with them.

“We work really hard to not impose any projects or initiatives or anything into the community, we’re just trying to collaboratively support them,” said Piedrasanta.

Additionally, each year Connecting Grinnellians works on several smaller ongoing projects. The organization funds free haircuts every semester for Grinnell community students at RJ’s Barber Shop downtown as well as food drives and clothing drives. There is also potential for taking on new projects this semester, like collaborating with the after-school program called LINK Grinnell, which works to address children’s needs for educational and extracurricular activities.

“What Connecting Grinnellians finds very important is being responsive to needs that are communicated to us by the community and not just assuming what is needed,” said Beamer.

“A lot of what we try to do is be sustainable and flexible so that if we are approached by a school or organization in Grinnell that thinks we can be of support, support them the best we can using College resources and college students.”

While Connecting Grinnellians receives monetary support from Student Government Association, Piedrasanta said the group could still benefit from more resources from the College.

“We want more institutional support. I think Connecting Grinnellians is in a spot where we would really benefit from having an advisor or falling under a certain department like the [Community Enhancement and Engagement] department at the College just be- cause we manage a lot of things that happen in the community,” said Piedrasanta.

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