It Takes a Village

Seventeen-year-old Autum tended to describe herself as introverted, closed off, and with a lot to say but not always the opportunity to say it. She often found herself struggling to find her voice and to interact with people.

The Village at Ithaca changed Autum’s outlook completely. Today, a sociable proactive high school senior, Autum goes through her days speaking up for what she knows is wrong and what needs to change. She is outgoing and collaborates with peers and adults alike. As a summer youth employee, Autum became a founding member of the Village’s Girls of Color female empowerment group.  She is the student coordinator of the Stolen Joy Project, a social media initiative that shares stories of racism and oppression experienced in public school by students of color. 

“Through the Village at Ithaca, I have found a safe space for me to be my true, authentic self,” said Autum, explaining how she had the opportunity to meet peers who have felt misplaced and share stories strengthening their bond.

Founded in 2002, the Village at Ithaca is a non-profit organization that advocates for education equity for black, brown, low income, and other underrepresented and underserved populations. Designed to meet family needs, the Village provides wraparound support services such as academic tutoring, family advocacy, and emergency food and financial support.  The Village is committed to actively listening to families and designing programming based on community needs.  “We as an organization, as a community can always do more and do better for our children and families,” said Executive Director Meryl Phipps.

The Village’s Student Success Center is one of the many programs that focuses on improving students’ understanding of their course material to create a solid foundation. Each student is paired with an Achievement Coach who works one-on-one with them to first “affirm, inspire, encourage, instruct.”  In this current climate of pandemic schooling, the Student Success Center has evolved to include virtual tutoring as well as daily in-person academic support during the school day for middle and high school students struggling to navigate remote learning.

Another important Village service is the Family Advocacy Program, which helps both students and families ensure they have all the resources provided to them to excel in school and their home life. Family Advocates attend school meetings to support caregivers and students in making their voices heard. They also join caregivers of students with disabilities at Committee on Special Education meetings, and advocate for students in disciplinary proceedings. 

The Village is open to students of all ages. The organization has supported some young people from elementary school all the way through college. “We take our name very seriously,” said Phipps. “Once you reach out and want to be a part of our village, we will follow you all the way.”

The Village operates with Phipps as the only full-time employee and three part-time employees. Phipps finds herself with her hands full, writing grant proposals one day and tutoring biology the next. She is a 2009 graduate of Cornell Law School, and practiced family law in Ithaca before joining the Village. “I was frustrated by the challenges of working with kids in an oppressive system that wasn’t serving the needs of vulnerable people,” said Phipps. “I’ve always been more interested in policy work and in thinking outside of the box to create solutions to historically rooted problems—this all has been liberating.”

—By Anna Moura

Anna Moura, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a Class of 2021 Writing major and Psychology minor at Ithaca College.

[The Village is the recipient of $1,018.00 in donations collected in The Sophie Fund’s 2020 Cupcake Button Fundraising Campaign, which is held annually to aid local nonprofits supporting mental health and wellness. The Sophie Fund thanks the following student organizations for participating in the campaign: At Cornell University, Cornell Minds Matter, Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter, Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity, PATCH (Pre-Professional Association Towards Careers in Health), and Building Ourselves through Sisterhood and Service (BOSS); Active Minds at Ithaca College; and Active Minds at Ithaca High School. To learn more about the Village at Ithaca, or to become involved in its work, visit the Village on social media, at http://www.villageatithaca.org, or e-mail contact@villageatithaca.org.]