The Possibilities of Partnership

Community corps student reflects on building new partnerships
by Sophie Kasakove
September 18, 2017

This year, the Swearer Center is working with over 90 community partners, some of them for the first time. Swearer Center students are a crucial part of the process of building relationships with new partners. Through helping develop programs, recruiting student volunteers and more, students are learning how these organizations work and how Brown students can be most effective as volunteers. This year, Nini Nguyen '18 is helping develop a relationship between Partnership for Adult Learning and the Perspectives Corporation, an agency dedicated to helping people with developmental, intellectual and other disabilities participate in and contribute to community life. Nguyen talks here about her experience in joining the work of these two organizations and some of the exciting possibilities of this partnership.

Q: What organization do you work with?

A: I work with Partnership for Adult Learning, which works with the Perspectives Corporation. We pair students with adult students with learning disabilities and try to form relationships between them as they work toward learning goals. We practice person-centered choice—giving voice to our learners so that they take ownership over their growth in a world where they usually aren’t able to make those decisions. The learning goal can be any subject—it can be a traditional academic subject like reading or writing. But it can also be something different, like astronomy or morse code or drums. Because the learners are making this choice themselves, the range of goals is very wide.

Q: What has it been like to develop a relationship with Perspectives Corporation?

A: Last year was the first formal year. Perspectives Corporation is the biggest organization of its kind, providing support and services to adults with developmental disabilities. So it’s been very helpful to have professionals guiding us to make sure that our program is addressing the needs of this population in the best way possible. Our partner was really good in the beginning stages of this relationship about trying to learn as much as possible about what PAL was already doing, and what our strengths and weaknesses were. Rather than totally change our program, there have been opportunities to adapt our model to theirs. We now have the resources to train our tutors to be better. And we can explore opportunities to take PAL to new places. We’re trying to pilot a new initiative where tutoring takes place off campus in the community. Before, all of the learners came to Brown for tutoring. So now we’re going to try having our pairs go do things in the community. They’ll be going to programs at local organizations—things like cooking classes— which is something that the support of Perspectives is really helpful with. We’ve also been able to have these trainings, which have been really edifying and helpful. We’ve gotten a lot of context about the impact of our work. Prior to partnering with Perspectives we were very removed from the question of why we work with adults with mental disabilities. So this has given us a lot of insight into what the community thinks of us what we can do better.

Q: What are other plans you have for PAL this year?

A: We’re trying to plan our academic panel this semester-- we’re going to have some Brown professors and tutors talk about what challenges adults with developmental disabilities are facing. We also want to start recruiting volunteers from from RISD and Johnson and Wales. The new Swearer Initiative is all about putting the power back in the hands of the community, so we want to get as many volunteers as possible to reach as many learners as possible. The goal by the end of the year is to double the number of learners and tutors.