When I sat down with Sandi Gerdes, Executive Director of Laura Baker Services Association (LBSA) to talk about how the Carleton community has collaborated with LBSA, she pulled out a list of over twenty items that came to mind, organized by theme. Carleton’s relationship with LBSA has spanned many years. While Gerdes was not sure exactly when formal partnerships between the college and LBSA started, she has gotten calls from alumni as far back as class of 1968 requesting to volunteer when they are back in Northfield for reunion.

Polly and Lee
Polly and Lee

 The close relationship between Carleton and LBSA begins with the fact that the two organizations are physically neighbors. Land was exchanged formally at times, but also, with the Carleton arboretum around 50 feet from the main campus, Gerdes says that many informal interactions occur there which lead to “rich relationships… that have been pretty prominent over the years.” LBSA has used Carleton spaces for events such as a music festival and their annual gala. While less visible, Gerdes notes that Carleton spaces allow LBSA to hold such events, which are important for the organization.

The rich history of collaborations between Carleton and LBSA include many instances of sharing spaces that benefited both groups, and the encouragement of relationships between members of the Carleton community and members of the LBSA community. Now known as College Buddies, a program that matched LBSA clients with Carleton students was conceived 30-40 years ago by a Carleton professor. Today, participants in College Buddies spend time with LBSA clients once a week doing a range of activities from dancing with exercise videos, to walking in the arb, to playing board games. Program Director, Aidan Burdick ’18 describes his experience with College Buddies as a “balancing force,” with this involvement in the community helping him to put issues into perspective.

The time that an individual student spends in Northfield is limited, but Gerdes noted that a student graduating or leaving for a break does not end the relationship between students and clients of LBSA. Carleton students often keep in contact for years and return to Northfield for important life events. “If they can continue those connections over time, that means more than if they come and go.”

More recently, LBSA has partnered with Carleton professors and students to create research opportunities, in a wide range of fields. A history major has written a history of the organization and a statistics professor has analyzed data about the characteristics of similar organizations. In the Spring, Annette Nierobisz, professor of Sociology, added an ACE component to SOAN 240: Methods of Social Research in collaboration with LBSA. Her students designed a survey meant to investigate the factors that encourage the direct support staff at LBSA stay in their jobs. This will assist LBSA in understanding how to keep direct support staff in an industry that is difficult and also gives Carleton students a unique learning opportunity. Rachel Gallager ’18, another College Buddies program director, will also be working with Nierobisz next year to complete a Sociology Comps project researching how parents with children who have intellectual developmental disabilities “negotiate aging and end of life decisions.” Nierobisz notes that students like to “have socially meaningful assignments,” so the SOAN 240 project would be engaging and give “students a real world learning opportunity [while] in the process they’re doing good for the community.” Gerdes also feels research is “really important because there’s not a lot of research in the disability field and anything we can do that will encourage [research] can help to move that forward and help to formalize some of the information that right now is largely intuitive.”

Over time, Gerdes described, the relationship between Carleton and LBSA has evolved from neighbors to strategic partners. Gerdes noted of all the ways that Carleton and LBSA collaborate, “If those things went away, how would we replace them?” The relationship between Carleton and LBSA is not limited to a single volunteer program, but rather is built upon a rich history of diverse collaborations.