Civic Action Fellowship Students Thrive In Community Engagement
Business student Augustus Muse ’24 heard about Dominican University of California’s Civic Action Fellowship through his high school counselor at Sebastopol’s Analy High School. The counselor believed the program was a good opportunity for Augustus to expand his interest in community service while receiving a scholarship to attend Dominican.
As a member of the Analy Activists Club, Augustus had helped raise awareness about local homelessness. As a member of the Analy Eco-Action Club, he helped to organize the September 20 Climate Strike.
Now, as a Civic Action Fellow at Dominican, Augustus is working at Ritter Center, a San Rafael nonprofit organization focused on preventing homelessness and improving the health and well-being of individuals and families living in poverty in Marin County.
Developed by Dominican in partnership with California Volunteers, the Civic Action Fellowship integrates service and academic work with a focus on career preparation and community engagement. Fellows are simultaneously engaged in service projects while developing skills for careers, graduate school, and a life of civic engagement.
For Augustus, the fellowship has helped him develop community while learning about issues of inequity in Marin County. The fellowship has helped him connect with classmates and professors despite the challenges presented by COVID.
“This is not what I was expecting college to be like at all,” Augustus says. “I haven’t even stepped foot in a dorm yet I feel as if I’m still getting a full education.”
Augustus spends about 20 hours a week managing Ritter Center’s food pantry, a multi-task role that has him working with between 50 and 150 Ritter clients daily.
“What’s surprised me as a result of my work on site is noticing that the stigmas associated with homeless individuals are complete farces; the only difference between myself and the clients I interact with are the resources that we were presented in life,” Augustus says. “It’s helped me realize my own privilege and has given more humility than any other experience."
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Psychology major Carmen Hurtado Aragon ’24 almost didn’t apply for a fellowship, worried that she did not have enough community service in her background. Her fears were unfounded.
Carmen started on the path to community service at Kipp King Collegiate High School, a small charter school in San Lorenzo. There she was a member of Latinos Unidos, and helped the club organize celebrations held to help spread awareness about the Latinx community’s culture. She also was part of the Dream Club, which held fundraisers to help undocumented families and raised awareness about DACA. In addition, she served as a senior mentor to high school freshmen – inspired to take on the role because of the lasting impact her own senior mentor had made on her years earlier.
“I wanted to give back and help the upcoming freshman knowing the struggles that they can go through,” Carmen recalls. “I also took this as an opportunity to just get to know them better and to actually understand the things they go through. Even though I was older than them and I was there to guide them through high school, I actually think we made a connection as friends and I think that’s one of the best ways to help others.”
It is this focus on making connections that Carmen carries with her today as she works with Community Action Marin, a social service agency serving and assisting low-income Marin residents in achieving a life of quality based on self-sufficiency.
Carmen is assigned to the Client Intake Team, helping the team collect and maintain client information, while also contacting clients to remind them of upcoming appointments. She admires the tenacity of many of these clients, especially the seniors who might be challenged by technology.
“I have met people that teach themselves how to use a computer to attend their appointments and to fill out their forms. It’s very empowering to see this.”
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The work fits well with Carmen’s academic interests and career goals. She is studying for a major in psychology with a minor in clinical psychology with the goal of working as a therapist and advocate for children and teenagers.
“As a student of color, I have experienced ignorance when it comes to mental health. People older than me would often tell me that my problems are “nothing” and I have nothing to worry about or that it’s just a phase and the sadness I feel would eventually go away,” she says. “I don’t want other kids and teenagers to feel the way I felt, so I really want to make a change in this area. Especially to lower-income families of color that don’t get to have the same resources as someone from a higher socioeconomic level.”
Augustus also is gaining important hands-on skills that will help him toward his goal of one day owning a business.
“I was raised by a single mother who has run a business since she was 20, and I want to do my best to emulate her work ethic so I can be as successful in my life,” he says.
For Carmen, the Civic Action Fellows program has shown her a way to get involved with her greater community in a meaningful way.
“Before, I never actually knew how to get involved and where to get involved,” she says. “Now that I see the number of resources that there are for communities is very empowering for me to do better and to be better. It actually made me more excited to come back to Dominican next semester (hopefully) knowing that I can get actually involved with my Dominican community.”