Bridge Initiative: Connecting College and Community

The Bridge Initiative is composed of Castleton residents and Castleton University personnel working together to foster bonds of understanding and good will. Since May 2015, the initiative has been raising awareness of resources for learning, enrichment and entertainment, and developing innovative joint ventures.

The Bridge Initiative grew out of our work together on the Friends of the Castleton Free Library Committee and its popular Science Pub series — an early town-gown effort as most of the first speakers were Castleton professors. Martha was concerned about some residents’ anger at the “packs” of students on Main Street. She also wanted to increase attendance at the many cultural events hosted by the university, as well as broaden appreciation for the advantages offered by the college. Charlotte liked the idea of helping students appreciate their town neighbors and broadening residents’ understanding of what happens at Castleton.

So the two of us met in May 2015 to discuss ways to develop closer bonds between the town and the university. 

We invited faculty and staff members, along with town residents, to brainstorm ideas and the Bridge Initiative was born. In the three years since, the group has grown to 15 active members who have devoted great energy and much good will to building multiple bridges connecting the university and the community.

People are busy, yet we do a lot.

We man tables during orientation and homecoming, offering information about the town to students and parents; distribute more Spartan newspapers to more places; organize student visits to Main Street homes; help coordinate volunteer work for orientation weekend; and arrange for local families to host international students. We highlight the economic and volunteer contributions of the university to the town in the town’s annual report, in addition to regularly posting campus events of interest on Front Porch Forum, and we talk up the university and its many benefits to anyone and everyone. 

In 2017, Martha helped organize a field trip to Mass MOCA and Dia Beacon art museums, guided by art professor emeritus Bill Ramage, that was open to the public and counted as two Soundings credits for students. 

Most recently, dozens of new community advisors who were on campus early for orientation participated in Castleton’s Colonial Day, enlivening the scene in their handsome costumes and young smiles. And the Bridge Initiative organized a Castleton University presence for the first time in the town’s July Fourth parade.

In the process, we have formed bridges of cooperation and interest among our members, and learned much about how each entity functions. We have welcomed President Scolforo to our meetings and were thrilled to learn of her interest in furthering town-gown ties. 

Who We Are

A devoted group of community members, in addition to Martha, include Rich Byrne, Sue Day, Fred Remington, Julius Riemersma, Pat Schroeder, and Bill Wood. Alum Andrew Breting, who owns Third Place Pizzeria on Main Street, has recently become a valued member. The name for the restaurant came out of a course Andrew took with Sociology Professor Phil Lamy … so many connections!

Faculty and staff, in addition to Charlotte,who share their expertise are Rich Clark, Cora Churchill, Mary Droege, Phil Lamy, Matt Patry, and Kate Spaulding. Jeff Weld and Courtney Widli communicate with us regularly, since our work dovetails with their community relations and promotion efforts. The Student Government Association's Vice President of Community Relations Natasha Lewis represents our students' perspectives.

We have the committed participation of Town Manager Mike Jones.

“I see the Bridge Initiative as a collaborative effort that will help project positivity and provide a bridge into each other’s activities, goals, and aspirations," he said. "This type of positive outlook and collaboration is the type of thing that may be silent in the organization’s mission statements, but should not be silent in our actions and deeds.”

Our members are engaged in other community groups such as the Lions Club, the Lake Bomoseen Association, the League of Women Voters, Castleton Women’s Club, and the Castleton Historical Society, helping forge further ties with the community.

Our projects have been many and varied. Next, we hope to enhance outdoor spaces in town and on campus that all can enjoy. We’re exploring a possible path along Castleton River that will connect to the existing trail system on campus, and enhancing the town green. We’re locating a spot on Main Street for a sign advertising university events, and hope to decorate the town with university banners. We’re investigating ways to encourage students to vote and planning an event in conjunction with the town library for residents to meet our international students.

The Bridge Initiative is always seeking more members so we can do even more. 

This story was written by Charlotte Gerstein, reference and instruction librarian at Castleton, and Martha Molnar, freelance writer and Castleton resident.