Acting in the Community Together

May 15, 2008
By Emily Snyder ‘11

The Acting in the Community Together (ACT) Center was founded in 1985 after a visit from a representative of a campus outreach program urged the then-Carleton president to establish a community-based service hub. Julia O’Grady laid the foundation for ACT by uniting three community service programs with volunteer support from about 60 Carleton students: Project Friendship, Volunteer for Youth, and Faribo Project.

While Project Friendship and Faribo Project still exist today, ACT has expanded its reach to 42 on-going projects in the Northfield and Minneapolis area, supported by the volunteer efforts of 594 students in the 2006-2007 academic year. ACT offers a broad array of programs to engage students according to their skills, interests, and time availability in areas concerning community companionship, environment and sustainability, global and cross-cultural, health, social justice, youth, and tutoring. With steady growth in programs, student involvement, and job positions, ACT functions as a burgeoning center for social reform.

ACT successfully directed the annual Cuts for Cancer event on April 28, 2008. Local hairstylists volunteered their time to offer stylish haircuts, shave heads, or cut off 10 inches of hair to be donated to the Locks of Love program; 37 hair donations were successfully collected. In return for their haircuts, students donated $1,300 to the Ted Mullin Memorial Fund. The fund was created in honor of Ted, a Carleton student who died in 2006 of cancer. Another upcoming fundraiser event is the Lighten Up Garage Sale, which takes place June 19-21. After students vacate the dorms, their leftover belongings are collected and sold at a massive garage sale in West Gym, organized through the collaborative efforts of Project Friendship, Special Olympics, and the Key Union of Youth. The sale usually generates about $13,000, with the profits split among its three organizers. One-time events sponsored by ACT, such as Cuts for Cancer and the Lighten Up Garage Sale, occur throughout the academic year and serve as great opportunities for students interested in volunteer work who cannot make a weekly time commitment.

Laura Riehle-Merrill, who serves as the first ACT Director in its newly independent department in Student Life, emphasizes the novelty of a campus service center in which all of the service programs are run by at least one student leader. These student program directors recruit, teach, and assist volunteers in the program while working as contacts for their community partner and the ACT Center. Their dedication to ACT programs plays an integral role in its success.

Erica Nakajima (Richboro, Pa.), a senior biology major at Carleton, works as the program director for HealthFinders, a free health clinic geared towards uninsured and under-insured residents of Rice County. Erica organizes HealthFinders’ annual fundraising gala, which receives donations from local businesses, college students, and other members of the community for a silent auction. In her third year of working at the gala, Erica treasures the community aspect of uniting Northfield and Faribault in a joint cause for social reform. “It is tremendously rewarding to know that the funds raised at this event enable people to get health care that they otherwise would have foregone.” For more information on Healthfinders, visit

While Laura says many of the ACT Center’s goals have already been achieved, she has other visions for its improvement and development. “Rather than developing more programs, we want to increase the quality of each program.” Increased communication with volunteers and community partners is key in raising the quality and productivity of the center’s service programs. In addition to ensuring the value of its reach, Laura hopes to increase availability of funds for ACT. “By increasing our operating budget we can do more things, like host a speaker for our Civic Engagement Series.” Academic Civic Engagement refers to the relationship between Carleton College and its community-based learning, research, and service learning. Laura aspires to establish a center for Civic Engagement to better support volunteer initiatives and integration of service learning into academic courses at Carleton. Fueled by the dedication of its staff and student workers, ACT Center continues to promote unification of Carleton College with its neighboring communities in a unique collaboration for social change.