This summer, three student-led teams from the Class of 2021 will be embarking on Projects for Peace focusing on ways to bring people and communities together. Student correspondents Sabrina Fay '22 and Oyin Sangoyomi '23 caught up with each group as the spring semester came to a close.
Writing Across the Valley
2021 Project for Peace
Benjamin Angarone originally had no plans to apply to Projects for Peace, but when his friend Jasmine Lu approached him with a service project idea, he knew right away that it was something that he wanted to be a part of. Lu, who has a strong interest in environmentalism, feels like “there’s a need to report more on environmental stories that are very local-based and that don’t make national attention.” As such, she decided that Projects for Peace would be a great organization to partner with in order to pursue this belief, which she and Angarone will be doing this summer.
Angarone and Lu, both graduated seniors, are focusing their project around the idea of exploring whether environmentalism and climate change is really as polarized of an issue as it is perceived to be. To do this, Angarone and Lu are travelling to a conservative area of Virginia where Lu is from, and for six weeks they are going to take the local politics there and use them to frame environmental discussions. This way, they hope that they will turn these environmental discussions into ones that are more in-tune with communities.
Their first stop is Shenandoah University, where they hope to learn more about the golf course that the university recently converted into a nature reserve that preserves bald eagles. From there, Angarone and Lu will be travelling to other communities in this region, learning more about the histories and stories there and working with local publications to reconstruct these stories.
Ultimately, Angarone and Lu are excited to learn more about these different communities, and they hope that the work they do this summer will help people learn more about their immediate surroundings, which Angarone affirms he thinks is “a special thing.” Agreeing with this, Lu adds that she likes “the idea of using journalism to cast light on hidden gems in certain communities,” and she looks forward to the histories they are going to stumble across and share with the world.
Arts and Activism in Brooklyn
2020 Project for Peace Reimagined
Though he originally applied in 2020 as an outgoing senior, Peter Schmidt was more than happy to adapt his Project for Peace to the needs of a community closer to home and is excited to see how it will come to fruition. He had originally applied with the intent to work with an art museum in Puerto Rico, connected by Arcadio Diaz-Quiñones from the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.
“I had worked with some people at a contemporary art museum in Puerto Rico for my junior paper, and I thought the prize could be a good way to return the gesture… it seemed like a good idea to move some resources from Princeton to there” said Schmidt. When reworking his project proposal to accommodate travel restrictions imposed by the global pandemic, Schmidt wanted to maintain his connection to service through art and reached out to a local mutual aid organization in his Brooklyn neighborhood, Public Assistants.
Inspired by a mural project near where he lives, Schmidt thought the organization would be a great place to reach out to and inquire about projects to help with.
“Public Assistants is able to make it work with the COVID protocols because they’ve done it before. I would say the constraints of the pandemic actually motivated this project, because it revealed that I didn’t need to travel to do service work when great work is being done literally around the corner from where I live,” says Schmidt.
Through Projects for Peace, Schmidt is helping Public Assistants with a youth art mural residency program which was piloted last summer. The project endeavors to bring together young people in the local neighborhood to discuss issues they are concerned about through art, by working together to design a mural to bring awareness to the issue and then painting it together.
“I personally hope the project will more firmly establish Public Assistants in the community and set a precedent for the kinds of initiatives that bring people together in the name of discussing and mobilizing against issues in a generative way. I also hope it creates community amongst the students,” Schmidt says. Though the pandemic caused him to have to alter his project plans and push the project back into 2021, he claims it has taught him a valuable lesson about the importance of locality in service.
“It has shown me how necessary it is to have groups operating from and for the community, committed to it in a long term way and not affiliated with any higher institution. There’s something really important about people doing work where they live,” he reflects. He hopes to maintain a theme of locality and close community in his future service work. Moving forward, Schmidt is eager to see the mural project come together and help youth engage with important issues while having fun and building interest in the arts.
Chambersburg to College
2020 Project for Peace Reimagined
When Kelton Chastulik was awarded by Projects for Peace in 2020, he planned to use his project funding to support first-generation and English-language learner (ELL) students. This project would have given these students an opportunity to shadow and create their own civic engagement projects. “One thing I’ve learned is that you can’t dictate anyone else’s experiences,” Chastulik explains why he believes an opportunity like this is important. “They know themselves and their communities.”
But then the pandemic began, and Chastulik found his plans derailed. Luckily, prior to applying to Projects for Peace, Chastulik has been conducting several service projects in his hometown, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. One of these projects is called Chambersburg to College, in which he helps make higher-education more accessible to students, and it is this project that Chastulik will now dedicate his Projects for Peace award towards in response to the pandemic.
This summer, Chastulik, now a graduated senior, will be sharing college-related experiences through Chambersburg to College in an effort to encourage underrepresented students and first-generation, low-income (FLI) students to make bolder decisions about college. This is a subject that is very personal to Chastulik, for he recounts that “five years ago when [he] found out [he] could maybe go to Prinecton, [he] didn’t even really know what it was.” As such, Chastulik plans to work with a team to host a college fair as well as generate a podcast to share more college-related narratives and experiences with students.
Chastulik believes that there are many interesting stories from students in Chambersburg that can be shared to inspire others. He recalls one story that was particularly memorable to him about a girl who was the first in her family to graduate from high school and how she learned to deal with her mental health after she left for college, leaving behind her family, with whom she was very close. “These stories would have meant a lot to me when I was going through the [college] journey, and if the stories we share help more students even a little then that means the world to me,” Chastulik says.
Chastulik hopes that this project will not only encourage underrepresented students to seek higher education, but that it will also challenge what Chastulik believes are “frustrating” misconceptions about rural poverty. “Chambersburg and other rural areas are not the monolith people think they are,” Chastulik notes. It is with this belief of his, as well as his dedication to improving access to education, that Chastulik plans to be the “best servant of [his] hometown as [he] can” this summer.