Community, conversations and connections at the Draper Center

Students interact with each other at a booth.
Staff members and student coordinators at Pomona’s Draper Center for Community Partnerships (Emma Jensen • The Student Life)

During Orientation Week at Pomona College, every incoming freshman runs through the famous stone gates between 6th Street and College Avenue. Inscribed on these gates are the words: “They only are loyal to this college who, departing, bear their added riches in trust for mankind.”

These words are aligned with the vision of staff members and student coordinators at Pomona’s Draper Center for Community Partnerships, a space that supports community engagement activities for 5C students. Allowing students to apply their learning to benefit the local community, the Draper Center runs several programs that work throughout the Inland Empire.

Gina Yum PO ’25 is the current coordinator for the Food Recovery Network, which works to redistribute food from Pomona dining halls to nearby community centers. Her passion for sustainability and waste management motivated her to restart the Food Recovery Network and become one of the student coordinators last spring. Yum described one of her favorite aspects of working with the Draper Center.

“The Draper Center … facilitated my connection with the world outside of … Pomona College by working in the Inland Empire,” Yum said.

Kristin Walters PO ’23 joined the Draper Center after her freshman year as a teacher assistant for the Pomona College Academy for Youth Success (PAYS), a college access program for local high school students. She is now on the staff of the Draper Center as a post-baccalaureate (post-bac) for educational outreach.

“We’re all on this one-track college lifestyle,” Walters observed. “One thing the Draper Center does is put you with people who didn’t live the same life you did or have the same interactions, or they speak different languages.”

Diana Rodriguez PO ’19, like Walters, was a student volunteer at the Draper Center before she became a post-bac upon graduating. Rodriguez points out the socioeconomic disparities between the Claremont Colleges and the city of Pomona, which students who primarily stay on campus tend to overlook.

The Draper Center also provides numerous programs for students to become more involved in their work. The program both Rodriguez and Walters highlighted was Alternabreak, a week-long community engagement trip during spring break. Rodriguez participated in the Alternabreak trip to San Francisco during her freshman year. 

“One thing the Draper Center does is put you with people who didn’t live the same life you did or have the same interactions or they speak different languages,” Kristin Walters PO ’23 said.

“Alternabreak is one of the best ways to get involved in your first year if you don’t necessarily know what you like because it is touching different community-based work,” Rodriguez said.

With an eye towards the future, the Draper Center has even greater plans to connect to the Inland Empire community. On Oct. 15, the city of Pomona will hold the grand opening of the Pomona College Community Engagement Center, a second branch of the Draper Center. Both Walters and Rodriguez shared excitement at the prospect of making their community-based and educational services more accessible to all residents.

“It’ll be like having Draper Center in the actual city,” Walters said. “I think that’s so beautiful because now we get to do even more work, and we’ve made so many community partners by starting this journey.”

Despite everything the campus organization has accomplished, Rodriguez believes the staff members and student coordinators are proudest of the community that they’ve built together.

“If you ask a lot of the Draper Center coordinators now, all of their friends are from the Draper Center,” Rodriguez said. “Outside of the affinity groups on campus, I feel like you can’t really find that in other places.”

Walters recounted her challenging first semester at Pomona as a low-income student, which caused her to consider dropping out. She credits the community at the Draper Center for helping her persevere and graduate college.

“[Working with] PAYS, I found a group of other volunteers who understood me, [and] understood my background and lifestyle,” Walters said. “The Draper Center gave me some opportunities that I never thought I could have, being low-income and coming from Florida.”

Walters concludes by revealing what she attributes to the success of the Draper Center: teamwork.

“It’s all a team effort,” Walters said. “I think that’s what makes the Draper Center work so well … Partnership with students, staff members, our community and just building around that … That’s what makes it work.”

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