Samantha is the RI Campus Compact AmeriCorps*VISTA serving with Providence College and working on the PC / Smith Hill Annex partnership. Sam is a PC graduate.
It seems like only yesterday that I was walking with one of my classes to a storefront on Douglas Avenue for class that rainy evening. We were given a tour of the fluorescently painted warehouse-esque building and Keith Morton (professor at Providence College) was telling us how PC would begin leasing the space and it would be used as a space to have conversations with people who wouldn’t normally have the space to do so. The room quickly went from feeling like a warehouse to being a space where so many diverse people would simply feel comfortable and was named, “Providence College/Smith Hill Annex”.
This comfortable space doesn’t seem so important when you just say it but when you experience it, you know it’s amazing and extraordinary. The perfect example of this feeling can be captured by a series that is taught at the Annex, “The City and…”. Last year, Keith Morton (PC), Nick Longo (PC) and Adam Bush (College Unbound) taught “The City and Its Youth” and this year, Keith and Adam taught “The City and Its Storytellers” along with Emmy Bright (New Urban Arts). I was enrolled in the course last year as a student and was lucky enough to sit in on the class this year as a way of not only documenting the Annex and working on telling the story of the Annex but as a way to participate in a regular program taking place there. This course is unique for a few reasons: the students (and instructors) come from a variety of institutions (Providence College, College Unbound, New Urban Arts, the Met School, and other community members) and it is taught at the Annex, not on any campus or office of the participating institutions. Last night we had our final class of the semester and as we were all talking about what we contributed to the course and what we would take away, I felt like I was sitting in a living room with my friends and family. I thought this was strange until people started talking about how comfortable they felt and how open they were to sharing their stories in that space, a space where they had never stepped foot in a few months prior. Sure, the people in the space had a lot to do with the comfort level of the class but there was very clearly something about the space that was special. I don’t think anyone in particular is doing something special to make the Annex a space where people feel comfortable but I think that’s why it has turned into such. No one has tried to make the space anything and no one has denied it from being anything, which allows for a surplus of possibilities.
As great as it is that our funders and most stakeholders are not strict on what happens in the space, I’m always a little apprehensive with no structure at all. When I’m faced with this type of situation or with anything I’m not sure of, I resort to conversations with others and try to get as many different perspectives on the topic as possible. The Annex has been no different; I have been meeting with different stakeholders and recording conversations with them for about two months now in hopes of figuring out just how they envision the Annex, why they’re so interested in being part of it and using that to learn what the community needs the Annex to be. While the concept of simply being a space for conversation seemed foreign for a lot of people to grasp, a few events doing just that have made believers of nearly everyone. To meet with Administration at Providence College after our grand opening in November and have them express how great it was that a student was talking with an Administrator and one of our community partners at the same time, made all the work and meetings over the past few months worth every minute of my time.