Why I Serve: Q&A with Cherry Oakley

Friday, Feb 1, 2019
by Benjamin Gelman '22, Pace Center student correspondent

In this monthly Q&A series, we aim to highlight members of the Princeton community, including students, faculty, and staff, who engage in service. This month, we spoke to Cherry Oakley who served as our Community Partner-in-Residence in the  fall of 2018. Oakley is the current Executive Director of Support Coordination at Neighbours, Inc, where she leads a team of statewide facilitators that helps New Jerseyans with disabilities. She has also worked closely with government systems, local communities, and service organizations to take strong steps towards values-driven transformation. She has been a founding board member of several nonprofits that focus on the health, healing, and wellness of those marginalized by society or living in urban communities.

Can you explain briefly what the position of the Community Partner-in-Residence is?

"A Community Partner-in-Residence is still an emerging role within the Pace Center that uses the ‘boots on the ground’ experience of the Partner in the thinking, planning, discussion, resource development, and reflection on the work that the Center is trying to strengthen. One of the current questions the center is trying to answer is 'How do we do service well?' and the exploration of that question impacted a lot of my contribution this past semester. For example, I came to the Community House Fall Kickoff and facilitated a workshop on how students could learn how to be most helpful in their service to the organization that was hosting them. I helped capture the wisdom of the outgoing student leadership on the Student Volunteers Council (SVC) to pass along to the incoming leaders. I offered an Introduction to Graphic Recording workshop as a fun way to increase communication tools at the disposal of those connected to the Pace Center."     

Why were you drawn to this role?

“Work related to social justice issues in the community is something I feel very called to do. When I was offered this opportunity, I saw it as one way to continue the work I love to do and collaborate with people with the same values. I also had a shared curiosity, as some of the things the Pace Center looks into are some things I am interested in. These include figuring out how we hold onto the information that you get when orientated in a new group, so that people that come after you don't have to reinvent the wheel, and so that you can build on it. And so I thought this would be a good opportunity. I also wanted to share graphic recording, and get to know people.”

What aspects of you background or past experiences do you think best prepared you to be the Community Partner-in-Residence?

"I would have to say my experience with facilitation, graphic recording, community engagement, strategic planning and years of leading a non-profit organization prepared me best for this residency." 

What unique opportunities for service do you see on Princeton's campus?

"The uniqueness of the incubator atmosphere the Pace Center creates sparks endless possibilities for service on Princeton’s campus. Big ideas and little ideas can find a home to germinate here. One such idea that is near and dear to my own heart would be the growth of a network of on campus graphic recorders/facilitators who could make themselves available to both students and staff for all of the work and reflection on the work that takes place while sorting through the details of being in service to humanity."  

Why do you think it is important for Princeton students to learn from outside perspectives as they perform service?

“I always think it's good to learn not just a concept or theory, but to sit with someone who is directly affected by what it is you do because this leads to a deeper understanding of the impact of what you are doing, clarity on why you are doing it, and what is optimal way to plan your next step(s)."  

Is there anything else you would like people to know about you or your role?

“It was a wonderful, amazing experience, that I am ever so grateful to have had. I do hope they continue to do it for years and that it continues to evolve. The Pace Center staff are phenomenal folks; they’re an assembly of Rock Stars and I was blessed to work side-by-side with them. They are humble, creative, supportive, amazing partners. I definitely want them to know that.”