Gabriella (Gabby) Valentine, a junior American Studies major and Bonner Leader(a four-year service
internship) at the University of the South, is actively involved in a range of community
organizations. The breadth of her involvement and leadership roles is impressive. Equally
impressive is her distinctive philosophy of community engagement and leadership, which
builds bridges between students and community members. The programs that she leads
not only address the real needs of low-income community members, but also creates
spaces for students and community members to develop meaningful relationships defined
by reciprocal service and support.
My love for community engagement has developed over my three years at Sewanee. I believe that as the volunteer coordinator for the Community Action Committee (CAC) and the director of Food with Friends I have been able to gain an appreciation for the community in and around Sewanee in an immeasurable way. The clients of the CAC have benefited me as much as I feel I have benefitted them. I strive for mutual understanding and trust in every aspect of my service. To me, community engagement is about building a better community through a team effort that allows each person involved to share their skills and opportunities for improvements with the rest of a group. Through CAC and Food with Friends I have helped to develop a number of programs including a tutoring program and a Free Family Portrait Day in which my clients and student volunteers gain a sense of normalization across socio-economic barriers that is often denied to people facing poverty and college students from privileged backgrounds. I plan to use my leadership skills and emerging community engagement philosophy after college as I apply this approach to work in the non-profit sector.