Ashley ’18, Sam ’19, and Shanti’18 might not cross paths during a typical school day, but one of the great things about Horizons is the potential for students to discover common bonds in their interests. Such has been the case for Ashley, Sam, and Shanti, who have brought their shared passions for equity and advocacy to their work this year at Elizabeth Freeman Center.
“This is a good group, and we make a good team,” says Ashley. “We don’t necessarily interact with each other every day at school, but we’ve been able to do a lot of good work here.” The nonprofit Freeman Center, based in Pittsfield, provides a range of services—from an emergency shelter to a 24/7 hotline to pet foster care—to victims of domestic and sexual violence throughout Berkshire County. This is the organization’s second year participating in Horizons, notes B Bradburd, Director of Operations and Communications and the students’ site supervisor.
“We’re excited to have the students here, and we try to balance our needs with their interests,” B says. For example, Sam and Shanti created a cookbook for parents in the shelter. They compiled recipes for quick and easy meals, comfort foods, and healthy snacks to help residents and their children feel more at home in unfamiliar environment. Ashley, who is considering a career in law, examined proposed changes in Title IX and developed a brochure outlining statutory protections available to students if they experience sexual harassment and/or assault. This semester, all three are collaborating on further research into Title IX for a presentation to MHS students about their protections under the law if they experience sexual harassment or violence, especially as they head to college.
The students, B adds, also attend staff meetings, seeing the inner workings of a nonprofit organization, and in November, they sat in on training from the Boston-based Victim Rights Law Center, which provides legal advice to survivors of rape and sexual assault and also does pro-bono legal work around Title IX protections. “What I hope the students take away from their experiences here is a sense of the scope of the problem and the potential to make a big difference if they throw themselves into the work,” he explains. “That’s not only true of our organization, but of nonprofits and community organizations in general.”
The students have enjoyed the work. The exposure to issues of domestic violence, gender equity, and legal protections, for example, have piqued Ashley’s interest in studying law. “It’s allowed me to see how much is involved in this work and how much of it is tied to the law,” explains Ashley, who credits Horizons with expanding her skill set. “I’ve learned to work with other people, especially people who may not have the same views, and I’ve learned it’s possible to have healthy disagreements,” she explains. “I also used to hate being critiqued, but I’ve since found that to be a helpful part of growth.”
Sam was inspired to volunteer at the site after seeing Mariah Lewis ’18’s Horizons presentation last year. “It’s not a field I’m interested in going into, but I saw this as a good opportunity to gain skills and educate myself,” says Sam, who adds that the experience should benefit her long-term goal of becoming a doctor. “I think it will help me to be a better doctor and also to have an understanding of what survivors go through,” Sam says, adding, “The center also has a really strong staff, which is mostly women, and that’s awesome for us to see.”
“I’m passionate about women’s rights and interested in going into law or psychology,” notes Shanti. “So much of what the center does, from community service to helping survivors, connects with things I am interested in. Until I was here, I didn’t realize exactly what they do, how they do it, and all of the incredible people working here. She also recommends the site to underclasswomen. “If you’re passionate about this work and want to learn more, it is a great site,” Shanti says. “You’ll make connections with people here, at outside organizations, and with other students, and I think we make a great three-person team.”