CHER shoutouts recognize students, alumni, staff, faculty, and community partners who contribute to CHER programming. This month we’re recognizing two alumni who continue to build partnerships between the College and the city–Shanelle Morris ‘16 and Jack Hale ‘70. Shanelle is the program director of the Grow Hartford Youth Program at Hartford Food System. She is the community partner for the Liberal Arts Action Lab project on school nutrition this spring.

What is your current role?

I am the youth program director of the Grow Hartford Youth Program. The Grow Hartford Youth Program is committed to developing youth leadership and community organizing skills so that young people can become agents of change who advocate for healthy food in their schools and community. Our current campaign to improve school food is called the 10 Slices of Justice. However, we also focus on broader topics such as racial and food justice, environmental racism, health and nutrition, community service and urban gardening. Our program meets every Monday and Wednesday, we have documentary screenings every Thursday, and biweekly community conversations about food insecurity in Hartford on Sundays.

Do you have any other projects in Hartford to note?

Last year, Grow Hartford created the Guia’s Guides Urban Farming program where young people learn the basics of growing their own food, connecting with the land, composting, maple tapping and harvesting their produce at a local community garden. We are also giving away free garden beds to Hartford youth and families. We believe that food sovereignty will lead to improved health and wellness in our community and hope that people find value in self-sustainability. We are also working on our new ‘Health is Wealth’ Hubs. These hubs promote health and wellness primarily through meeting immediate food needs, but we encourage others to drop off healthy recipes, herbal remedies, dental kits, and anything else related to health. Members of the community can give what they can and take what they need. Our first Health is Wealth Hub is located between Ashley Street and Huntington Street. We are looking to raise the funds to build nine more and seeking donations and volunteers to help shop for and stock the Hubs.

Were you involved with community engagement programs during your time at Trinity?

I was involved in a few community engagement programs. I took an education class and was partnered with HMTCA, where I observed a social studies class. I also interned at the Grow Hartford Youth Program at Hartford Food System in my senior year. I helped develop the current campaign we are working on to improve school lunches in Hartford. I also took some classes with Judy Dworin. This allowed me to visit York Prison and work on performance art with the women. In another course, I worked with formerly incarcerated women to create a collective theatre piece that was performed in the presence of friends and family members.

What has your career path looked like and how did your involvement at Trinity influence your career path?

I’ve always been interested in activism even before coming to Trinity. At Trinity, I was involved in an immigrants right group called Stop the Raids. I worked on worker’s rights work, immigration rights, and other social justice issues while on campus. After graduating from Trinity, I participated in a human rights fellowship called Humanity in Action where I lived in Denmark and learned about human rights issues throughout the US and Europe. I interned at a Danish soup kitchen for undocumented migrants, visited a Red Cross Asylum Center for refugees, participated in the Aarhus Pride Parade, and attended an international conference for human rights in Greece. After returning from Denmark, I interned at the Commission for Equity and Opportunity, and later at the Legislative Office at the Capitol. After that, I landed my current position at the Grow Hartford Youth Program where I have the opportunity to combine my passions for youth work and social justice.

How do you engage with Trinity in your current work?

Recently, the Liberal Arts Action Lab accepted the Grow Hartford Youth Program’s proposal to assist with our 10 Slices of Justice campaign to improve school food. The Action Lab will conduct research for us this spring on various facets of school food such as the federal, state, and local power players, the contractors and brands that are involved in Hartford Public Schools, as well as the nutritional value of the food served in the schools. We are excited for this partnership because I am the only one running the youth program so it is really helpful to have a group dedicated to the research. We can then move our campaign forward based on more in-depth knowledge.

Do you have any advice for current students?

Students should get off campus more and see what community work is being done. Even something as simple as visiting the Hartford Public Library and interacting with people and seeing what programs they offer can open up their mind to the opportunities that exist in Hartford. Students can also go off campus and visit organizations to see what they are working on or email local non-profits to see what they can do to help and support them.

It’s so easy at Trinity to stay on campus and not interact with the community, but I wish I went out in the community more. Luckily, I was involved in courses that allowed me to interact with the community, but if some students aren’t in those courses, it might take a little more independent effort to reach out and engage with Hartford.