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Four volunteers reflect on participation in the Winter Break Community Engagement Program

January 26, 2024

courtesy of Gizem Dogan
FROM VET TO PET: Gizem Dogan volunteers at a veterinary clinic in her new hometown of Tekirdag, Turkey during winter break, helping animals find their new families.

This winter break, a group of 41 students completed 50 hours or more of community service for organizations worldwide, helping to tackle issues that they are passionate about in their home communities. Their jobs ranged from deeply personal work for organizations they had grown up with, to diving into a new experience in a community they were getting to know. To receive a $750 stipend from the McKeen Center, participants wrote a reflection about their experience after meeting the minimum hours of service with their community organization.

Khalil Kilani ’25

Over break, Khalil Kilani ’25 returned to an organization that he has a long history with, the Telling Room in Portland, Maine—this time as a volunteer. The Telling Room is a nonprofit dedicated to providing young people with opportunities to share their own stories.

“The best way to put [their mission] is to help youth find their voice and give them a platform to speak about what’s meaningful to them,” Kilani said. “A lot of these kids are specifically in the Young Writers and Leaders Program. [They] were born in another country or are first generation. A lot of the personal narratives or poems that the students would write are deeply heartfelt stories, perhaps about coming to America—stories that you don’t hear on a daily basis.”

In high school, Kilani participated in various programs at the Telling Room, and he became a community ambassador during his freshman year at Bowdoin. Over break, he got to take a more hands-on role in the organization, implementing new projects and building on previous programs he participated in during high school.

“I hosted a poetry recital; I supported teaching artists in writing residencies at King Middle School and Mast Landing Elementary School,” Kilani said. “There’s also an annual writing contest, and I edited the winning submissions. We also worked on personal narratives with a program at the time called the Young Writers and Leaders Program, and that was the program that I had been a part of in high school. So that was particularly memorable.”

Gizem Dogan ’24

Gizem Dogan ’24 had the opportunity to volunteer at a veterinarian clinic in Tekirdag, Turkey, the city that her family moved to after she left for college. She learned about the clinic after her family adopted three cats, and she formed a relationship with the family that owns the center.

“I helped them out with nurturing the stray animals and pets that came in and vaccinating them against disease,” Dogan said. “We also have people adopt street animals. We have a lot of stray cats and dogs in Turkey. When the neighborhood people find [stray animals], they bring them in for vaccinations, and we help them adopt.”

Dogan also served as an assistant caretaker for the animals and completed a variety of tasks to help prepare them to see the vets. She would calm the animals during vaccinations and provide an extra set of hands to manage the animals during visits. Though she had to deal with plenty of unruly animals, her favorite part of the job was when friendly dogs would come into the clinic.

“Whenever the family dogs came in they always wanted to stick around and find a new home because people mostly just adopt them and then release them when they go back to Istanbul from their vacations,” Dogan said. “Whenever those types of dogs came around, it was the best time [because] they always wanted to play.”

Dogan hasn’t been able to spend that much time at home since coming to Bowdoin but  remarked that volunteering at the clinic helped her integrate into her local community.

“I grew up in Istanbul. You don’t have many ties with your neighbors because everybody’s doing their own thing, and they are much more individualistic. It was really nice to get to know the small community that my parents live in now.”

Victoria Jang ’26

Victoria Jang ’26 also had a long flight home—back to Kyrgyzstan, where she volunteered for the Penuel Children’s Educational Center.

“They’re a small organization that does different language classes and homework help classes for children in the area, and they make it very accessible to the people there for the students or families that usually wouldn’t be able to afford those kinds of things,” Jang said. “I helped them with their English classes since I’m an English speaker. We did talking clubs with the kids learning English there.”

Jang arrived before the students’ winter break started, so at the beginning of her time volunteering, she helped prepare for their New Year’s celebration.

She had worked there during her gap year, so she was already familiar with the organization and its mission. While she worked  in a variety of roles over break, her favorite part of volunteering was her experience with one of the English language clubs.

“We did a fun board game night type thing. The catch was that they were all supposed to speak English while playing all the games,” Jang said. “That was hard for them, but I spoke English the entire time and that was really fun just getting to know the kids and laughing together and having fun together.”

Afia Oduro-Manu ’24

Afia Oduro-Manu ’24 volunteered at the East Orange Family Success Center (EOFSC) in her hometown of East Orange, New Jersey. The EOFSC is a neighborhood organization that aims to strengthen local families and communities by offering educational activities, family resources and a gathering space.

“They have events called Nana’s love where women over 60 meet, and they get to have that community sharing circle…. They have an insurance event to get people registered for free or subsidized health insurance,” Oduro-Manu said. “They have monthly food drives [and] mentoring programs for Black female and male youth.”

Oduro-Manu also worked on a book club, assisted a farmer’s market and even helped the organization become more digitally savvy. Among all of these roles, helping to organize a Christmas toy drive was the most rewarding part of the job for Oduro-Manu.

“That was honestly my favorite part of volunteering since I know that growing up my family had to use a toy drive to just put presents under the Christmas tree,” Oduro-Manu said. “And I feel like no kid should go without a Christmas present especially when they’re young, so it was really nice to be able to contribute to that.”

The experience was an opportunity for Oduro-Manu to connect more with her greater East Orange community as well.

“The main thing that stuck out [from] before the experience was feeling really disconnected from my community,” Oruro-Manu said. “After [sixth grade], I went to private school outside of East Orange so I didn’t really feel … as connected to my town…. This was a way for me to help reestablish a connection that I have to my hometown.”


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