On Saturday, Oct. 14, Pomona College opened its Community Engagement Center (PCCEC) in downtown Pomona, fulfilling the college’s 17-year dream of having a physical presence in the city of Pomona, with which it shares a name and history.
In 2006, a group of faculty wrote a report on community engagement at Pomona College. Much of what’s detailed in that report became scaffolding for the Draper Center for Community Partnerships. However, one aspect of the report, the dream of an engagement center, was left untouched — until now.
Sefa Aina, associate dean and director of the Draper Center, has been with the college since 2005. In the last few years, Aina has been heavily involved with the creation of the PCCEC.
“There are invisible barriers that keep people away from the colleges … we want to erase those,”Aina said. “We are extending the front door of the college out here, into the community.”
Initially, the PCCEC will host after-school programs on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons. The downtown location provides walking access to students in the area.
“This is a great, tangible space for our local kids that don’t have anywhere to go after school, so we’re trying to be very practical in that sense,” Aina said.
The PCCEC intends to host workshops on college access and financial aid, as well as first-time home buying. Additionally, they hope to support nonprofit organizations in conducting research.
Alayna Nonhomme PO ’24 is a Draper Center coordinator and sits on the Community Center committee. She echoed the endless possibilities the PCCEC could offer for 5C students, staff, faculty and Pomona residents.
“Perhaps a beatboxing workshop, a talk on reproductive health, a yoga session, a history of Indigenous people in California, or even a scholarship writing workshop,” Nonhomme said in an email to TSL.
For some people involved with the PCCEC, the downtown location is especially meaningful. Ed Tessier, one of the featured speakers at the opening, grew up in the region and graduated from Pomona College with a degree in Urban Sociology in 1991. In collaboration with his family’s development and management companies, his career has focused on urban revitalization, education, and the arts.
“When I was in college, Pomona was a city you did not go to, but I was inspired by a highly influential professor, named Bob Herman, when I was in school,” Tessier said. “He claimed that, during urban renewal, even in the most dysfunctional neighborhoods, something or someone is working — whether it be a restaurant or church, whatever it may be. In order to heal a neighborhood, you have to build around that, something that already works.”
Tessier took this to heart and co-founded the Pomona Arts Colony, an upbeat neighborhood filled with artists, galleries, restaurants, and now the new PCCEC.
Nonhomme articulated just how impactful her time with Draper and the Pomona College Academy for Youth Success has been.
“Getting involved with the Draper Center provides you with the kind of hands-on learning needed to bring your very expensive liberal arts education to life,” Nonhomme said. “But more importantly, it will do so in a meaningful way. You’ll be able to identify with others — even if you don’t think you have much in common — and contribute to positive change much bigger than yourself.”
Aina echoed Nonhomme’s sentiment, referencing the iconic Pomona College gates, which state, “They only are loyal to this college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind.”
“Graduates of the college are supposed to ‘bear their added riches in trust for mankind.’ How are you going to do that if you don’t practice?” Aina asked a group of students, encouraging them to get involved with communities beyond the ‘Claremont bubble’ via the Engagement Center or otherwise.
The PCCEC is open from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday afternoons. It is located at 163 W. 2nd Street, Pomona, CA 91766.