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Brittany Bennett '15

Brittany Bennett

How did you get involved?
The Peer Mentor program mentioned that Interfaith Cot was looking for more volunteers.

Why are you interested in volunteering?
Coming to Smith marked a huge jump in my socio-economic status. I wanted to stay close to my roots. Volunteering at the shelter is a way for me to turn around and provide to others what I wish had been provided to me. I feel more comfortable playing poker at the shelter with a bunch of 40 year old men than at the dining table with my house.
What have you learned?

What I love the most about the shelter is what I can learn from the guests. They taught me how to throw a proper punch and defend myself against attackers, how to play poker (and win), how to travel for dirt cheap across the country, and they even helped me find a summer job.

What challenges have you faced and what have you learned from them?
I try my best to keep the "ivory tower college woman" at Smith. I'm aware of the vocabulary I use, of the details of my life I reveal, and the attitude I present. When I walk into the shelter, I check my privilege constantly. Through this, I have learned how to interact with people across a age, class, education, race, ethnicity, etc. barriers.

What surprised you?
How many dishes 20 guests can generate.

What motivates you to stay involved?
Knowing that I can make a guest feel cared for, even if it's just for a little while.

Lena Sernoff '14

Lena Sernoff

How did you get involved?
I heard about Kensington at a general CSO interest meeting. I also went to the CSO fair and learned more about the program there. The Kensington booth gave more information and displayed photos of the refugee children, which really touched me and made me want to get involved.

Why are you interested in tutoring?
I am interested in working as a refugee mentor because I have a personal connection to the matter. When I was 12, I moved to the United States and my English was not very good and I was completely overwhelmed academically and socially. I was then put into an E.S.L (English Second Language) program and received vital support from mentors and instructors. Programs that dedicate time to help non-native speakers adapt to the English language are vital to have, and without these types of programs I could not have gotten to where I am today. I know how scary it can be to sit in a new classroom far away from your native homeland and feel lost and helpless. Hence, I wanted to make sure that I give back in my community and share with others the support I had received myself.

What have you learned?
Being a refuge mentor really taught me how important it is to be there for these children even in the smallest of ways. What I mean is that this program has really shown me that being a refugee mentor means being there for the child to create a form of friendship and an alliance with them. Even if a day you visit the school and you feel like you had not contributed to his or her learning, I learned that you still do. I realized it's not about the number of math problems you helped them solve or the books you read with them. Being mentor is about forming a bond that shows through when the mentee smiles when you walk through the door and their face lightens up with a sign of relief of knowing their mentor showed up that day, that they did not forget, and that they are there for them.

What challenges have you faced or fears have you had to overcome and learned from them?
Because my mentee had "quiet time", math and World Language class as her subjects on the day I visited it was hard for me at first to feel like I am helping my mentee in a tangible way. However, I had learned to support her in different ways, for example in Spanish when she was unsure of something she asked me and I was able to reassure her.

What surprised you?
I was surprised how well behaved all the children at Kensington School were. The children are all very disciplined and hardworking. It was wonderful to be in an environment were children are eager to learn.

What motivates you to stay involved?
What motivates me to stay involved is my interest in helping others especially children. As an anthropology student with an interest in social justice, supporting refugee children is a wonderful cause that it worth staying involved in.