Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 9
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Outside the “Whitman Bubble”: Sharpstein Beautification Day

Sailor Harris
Photo by Sailor Harris

On Saturday, Oct. 21, Whitman volunteers and local families gathered at Sharpstein Elementary School for Sharpstein Beautification Day, an opportunity for Whitman students to engage with the community while helping out a local elementary school.

Over the course of the three-hour event, Sharpstein families came and went, playing on the playground and participating in various activities. Whitman volunteers painted faces, applied temporary tattoos and created chalk art alongside Sharpstein students. Volunteers and students also worked on posters to be displayed around the elementary school, and volunteers raked and bagged leaves in the school parking lot.

The Whitman Friends Program, which pairs Whitman students with local elementary schoolers to act as mentors, were the primary organizers of the event. Friends Rock and the Storytime Program also provided support in event organization and volunteering day-of. 

This is not the first elementary school clean-up in which Whitman’s community engagement programs have had a hand. Berney Elementary and Green Park Elementary both received similar help last year.

According to Natalie Lundberg and Katherine Harris, co-leaders of the Whitman Friends Program, event organization was based around Sharpstein’s needs, namely to create a community space in which Sharpstein families can interact. This is in line with the organization’s strategies for community engagement.

“Something we really emphasize is always going back to the needs of our community partners,” Harris said.

“It’s about community engagement and it’s about meeting Sharpstein’s needs … to bring their communities together but also intermingle it with our community,” Lundberg said.

Both Lundberg and Harris agreed that community engagement is particularly important because of a disconnect they observed between Whitman and the greater Walla Walla area. Several volunteers remarked on feeling that Whitman is very insular and often feels separate from Walla Walla as a whole. Lundberg dubbed it “The Whitman Bubble.”

“Thinking back to my freshman year, I really was not connected to Walla Walla in any sense. I felt very focused on my experiences at Whitman and I felt very isolated to this campus and Whitman’s culture, but being able to go inside the elementary school and being able to interact with that population has been super meaningful to me because now I feel like I actually have a connection with the broader Walla Walla community and then doing events like this expands it further,” Lundberg said.

Alejandro Mata, co-leader of Friends Rock, is a resident of Walla Walla. He agreed with Lundberg that Whitman feels very separate from the rest of the town, and said that as a resident, he didn’t see Whitman engaging much with the community. 

“The Whitman community and the Walla Walla community are two separate entities … I love how the CCEC [Career and Community Engagement Center] encourages our programs to do more … to engage with the larger Walla Walla community,” Mata said.

Harris shared her stance on being a part of the Walla Walla community.

“[Being engaged] can just be in little things, like being conscious of how you’re walking down the street, like saying hi to people, like what conversations you’re having at the grocery store or like getting involved in programs like this,” Harris said.

Sofia Del Fiol, co-leader of Friends Rock, encouraged students who may be unsure about participation in events like Sharpstein’s Beautification to attend one and see how they find it.

“Just try it,” Del Fiol said.

Lundberg also spoke about the value of more volunteers, citing higher numbers as the best way to expand the work done by the Friends Program.

“Expanding our numbers of volunteers is always a big goal of ours. We’re constantly recruiting throughout the year … every year the goal is to get more volunteers, more members involved, not only in our own program but all community engagement programs within the CCEC,” Lundberg said.

While cleaning up from the event, volunteers passed around a thank you card for Jamey Wolverton, the Whitman alumnus responsible for starting the Friends program as a part of her psychology thesis in 1994. Wolverton recently reached out to the Friends Program, and members wanted to do something to thank her for giving them the opportunity to engage in ways they found meaningful.

Overall, volunteers agreed that the event was a success.

“I think it’s going awesome. I love how the students that we have here we’ve gotten to just kind of hang out with them. Give them something to do on a weekend,” Mata said.

“It’s an example of when we use our constellation of resources to address a need and then also create a space simultaneously for connection,” Harris said.

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