Why I Serve: Q&A with Krystal Cohen ’21 and Alison Heilbronner ’20

Friday, Dec 14, 2018
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 Krystal Cohen, a sophomore from Jersey City, NJ planning to concentrate in Sociology, and Alison Heilbronner, a junior from Weston, MA in the Department of Molecular Biology, to talk about their experiences with Community House.

Can you explain briefly what Community House is?

Krystal: “Community House supports underrepresented youth by bridging communities, demonstrating integrity and fostering growth (our three main values). Our volunteers act as tutor-mentors, not only providing academic assistance but also, and more importantly, emotional support and holistic mentorship.”

What are your responsibilities within Community House?

Allison: “As project leaders, we recruit and coordinate volunteers, and plan special events beyond the normal day-to-day programming, like college preparation workshops and movie nights. This week, we’re excited to be planning our annual Community House After School Enrichment (CHASE) Holiday Party!”

What drew you to Community House and to CHASE?

Alison: “It is so easy to get locked in the “Princeton Bubble,” worrying about exams, social engagements, and general stresses. Sometimes students forget Princeton is not just a college, but a town filled with diversity. Selfishly, Community House keeps me grounded, reminded of what’s truly important. We all live in the town, not only the college, and we have a civic obligation to give back to a place where we are given so much.”

Krystal: “Community House is such a place of love and unconditional support, and I was drawn to the genuineness of those involved, like Charlotte Collins (Pace Center associate director and staff adviser to Community House). Personally, the youth at CHASE remind me of myself. Coming from a low-income background, my mom hustled to find free extracurricular programs so that I never felt I was missing out on anything because of our economic status. I’ve always been incredibly grateful for the people who volunteered their time to mentor me, and I see CHASE as a way to pay their kindness forward.”

Why do you think it is important for Princeton students to work with youth?

Alison: “CHASE provides the chance not only for our students to seek help, but also for our tutor-mentors to relax. Additionally, seeing a child succeed is priceless. For example, if one of them is struggling in a particular topic, and a tutor-mentor helps them to better understand the concepts, which is shown by a high exam grade, the amount of pride is unimaginable. Community House can remind Princeton students about their worth, and how valued they are by the community.”

Krystal: “It’s also important for Princeton students not to get consumed in their life at this exact moment, and to recognize that the world is broad and full of possibility. Working with youth at CHASE constantly reminds me that there’s so much more beyond the FitzRandolph Gate. I may help CHASE youth with geometry or A.P. US History but the amount I learn from them is immeasurable. When you reach a point when they trust you with their stories, their experiences, their worries, and their hopes, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

How do you view the connection between improving students' academic performance and social health?

Krystal: “When thinking about the connection between academics and social health, it’s important to recognize that a student isn’t a collection of separate entities, but one whole person. What happens at home affects them at school and what happens at school affects them at home. We recognize that if something is bothering them and they have a math quiz the next day, drilling practice problems isn’t going to help as much as talking about the issue and letting them express their feelings. At CHASE, we focus on holistic development, on supporting our students in becoming the best possible versions of themselves, including but certainly not limited to academic performance.”

Is there anything else you would want people to know about CHASE or Community House? 

Alison: “It is such an accepting place, and it is one of my homes on campus. There is nothing else like it!”