By Stella Katsipoutis-Varkanis, Bryan Hay, and Genamarie McCant

Each year, the Landis Center shines a well-deserved spotlight on Lafayette students, faculty, staff, and community partners who have demonstrated remarkable dedication to strengthening the bond between campus and community through education, outreach, and engagement. These community members are stellar examples of the ideals of individual commitment, a common purpose, and active citizenship. Meet the 2023 Landis Active Citizens, who, through their work, are making the Lehigh Valley—and the world at large—a more collaborative and inclusive place.

Headshot of Lafayette College student Ari Ismail '26Ari Ismail ’26
Creative Minds; Easton Garden Works

Through Landis, Ari Ismail ’26 participates in Easton Garden Works, which maintains a network of community gardens throughout Easton, and the Creative Minds program, which supports women at Northampton County Prison through creative art-based projects, writing, and interactive activities. “We’ve been going into the prison weekly and providing a space for the women to relax and debrief,” she says. “We try to keep it as light as we can because many of them have children, and they’re dealing with a lot. We do fun activities [like writing poetry, drawing, and playing charades].” Ismail finds endless rewards in meeting people in the Easton community through her work with Landis. “I’ve gone to elementary schools, community schools, and community gardens, and I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. Just seeing how much they care about others and this city makes me want to work with them,” Ismail says. “But I think going into the prison is [especially] meaningful. They always say that they don’t want us to leave when our allotted time is up. It’s very sad to hear but also very sweet just to know how much our visits are appreciated.”

Why I heart Landis

“Landis appears to be one of the reasons I actually chose to come to Lafayette. I’ve learned a lot from my culture and from my family, and have found that community engagement is a pivotal part of my growth and development of character. Being involved in an organization like Landis has taught me even more about active engagement, which to me means more than public service because it’s a two-way street.”

Headshot of Lafayette College professor Arthur KneyArthur Kney, professor of civil and environmental engineering
Lafayette Easton Engineering Mentorship

A former director of the Landis Center for Community Engagement, Arthur Kney has been involved with the center almost from the moment he arrived at Lafayette in 1999. In his most recent interaction at Landis, he and Christa Kelleher, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, are working with a group of Lafayette students, local professionals, and Easton Area High School students in the Lafayette Easton Engineering Mentorship (LEEM), formally known as the ACE (Architecture, Construction, Engineering) Mentor Program of America. Supported by the Landis Center, the program was spearheaded by Frank Deluca of Turner Construction, Lauren Daniels of AEGIS, the late David Veshosky, associate professor of engineering studies and civil & environmental engineering, and Kney about five years ago. “I have found that combining outreach with coursework and research provides excellent enrichment opportunities for both,” Kney says. “The current LEEM program offers our students an outlet to teach what they have learned to Easton Area School District students. “It also provides an excellent way for all the students to interact with local professionals, helping both sets realize how lessons learned can be directly applied in the workplace.”

Why I heart Landis

“I continue to be very proud of the great Landis team. As I think all Lafayetters know, we have many great groups on campus, but selfishly, I always considered the Landis team to be one of the best groups on campus. What better way than to bring people together around education? This is why I hold Landis close to my heart.”

Headshot of Lafayette College women's basketball coach Kia Damon-OlsonKia Damon-Olson, head coach, women’s basketball
School Day Game

The driving force behind Lafayette Athletics’ annual School Day Game, head women’s basketball coach Kia Damon-Olson partners with the Landis Center, Wells Fargo, as well as other Lafayette coaches and teams to welcome Easton Area School District students to visit the Lafayette campus, meet student-athletes, and watch a game at Kirby Sports Center. In January, 1,200 local fifth and sixth graders had the opportunity to cheer on the Leopards, and take part in their own relay races and educational activities—they each also took home a book and drawstring bag thanks to the event’s sponsor, Wells Fargo. “It’s been a great way to connect our students at the College with the students of Easton,” Damon-Olson says. “It gives our student-athletes an opportunity to serve as role models and inspiration for young aspiring athletes who hope to go to college someday.”

Why I heart Landis

“Landis has made our School Day Game a highlight on our Athletics schedule. They have been great partners in helping to organize details of the event over the last five years we’ve been hosting it, and they’ve made it easy for us to seek out opportunities to engage with the community.”

Headshot of Lafayette College student Ricki Blaustein '25Ricki Blaustein ’25
America Reads Program 

Prior to beginning her first year at Lafayette, Ricki Blaustein ’25 (a double major in psychology and anthropology & sociology) was drawn to the Landis Center due to her family’s emphasis on community service. She even wrote about the center in the “Why Lafayette” portion of her college application, attributing it as a primary factor in her decision to attend Lafayette. Currently studying abroad in Vienna, Austria, Blaustein—who has been part of the America Reads program since the spring semester of her first year—serves as a program coordinator for Cheston Elementary School in Easton. She credits Christine Cohen, the coordinator of America Reads and America Counts, for her positive experience with the program. Encouraged and supported by Cohen, Blaustein felt inspired to coordinate a Relay for Life gathering last semester, resulting in the collection of more than $10,000. In addition to improving the literacy skills and achievements of local Easton area school children, Blaustein fosters connections that extend beyond the classroom through tutoring and social-emotional learning activities. Both the Landis Center and the America Reads program offer Blaustein the opportunity to combine her two passions: community service and working with children.

Why I heart Landis

“I love Landis for so many reasons. For starters, the people I have met through the Landis Center are the most intelligent, outgoing, and passionate people I have ever met. Everyone is so incredibly devoted to community service, and they push me to work harder and to go out of my comfort zone. I absolutely love everyone I have met through the Landis Center, and some of my best friends even run other programs in Landis! Along with being filled with an amazing group of people, the Landis Center provides so many great opportunities to connect with the Easton community. Through Landis, I’ve had the chance to participate in various initiatives that have not only broadened my perspective, but also deepened my commitment to creating positive change. Through my work with the Landis Center, specifically with America Reads, I feel as though I have created connections and memories that will last a lifetime, and I would not change those for the world.”

Headshot of Lafayette college professor Gabrielle KelenyiGabrielle Kelenyi, assistant professor of English
ENG 350: Writing and Community Engagement

One of the things Gabrielle Kelenyi is most passionate about as an English professor is exploring how the skill of writing can be used to enact social change. And in her Writing and Community Engagement course, she works with the Landis Center to provide students with the opportunity to do just that. Through partnerships with Easton-area community organizations that are facilitated by Landis—including Second Harvest Food Bank, Nurture Nature Center, Greater Easton Development Project, Wilson Communities That Care Coalition, and more—Kelenyi’s students gain firsthand experience researching and working on communications-centered projects that help bolster various community-facing goals. “Students are able to not only gain hands-on practice with nonprofit communications and marketing writing, but also get involved in the community around Lafayette and use their English studies to make a difference in spaces that matter to them,” Kelenyi says. “Few undergraduate students get opportunities like this in a course setting.”

Why I heart Landis

“This is only my second semester at Lafayette, and the Landis Center was one of the things that intrigued me the most about working at Lafayette. For me, this is a dream course, and the Landis Center made it happen. Being that I moved to Easton from halfway across the country, it would potentially take years to cultivate relationships within the community and get a class like this off the ground. But thanks to Landis and their deep connections throughout Easton, I’m able to meet community partners, facilitate connections between them and the students, and help contribute to their goals. I have immense gratitude that the Landis Center exists.”

Headshot of Judith Dickerson of Cops 'n' Kids of Easton

Photo by Olan Mills

Judith Dickerson
Cops ’n’ Kids of Easton 

As the director of the two Cops ’n’ Kids of Easton reading rooms, Judith Dickerson leads with her passion for education and youth advocacy. In collaboration with the Sigal Museum and the Easton Area Community Center after-school program, Cops ’n’ Kids of Easton provides spaces that are comfortable and welcoming places for children (Pre-K through high school age) and their families to read together, share stories and story-related activities and crafts, and select up to five free books to take home on every visit. Dickerson’s partnership with the Landis Center provides Lafayette students the opportunity to participate in reading room programs alongside other local volunteers—including police officers, high school students, and representatives from community organizations. Along with processing and labeling donated books, student volunteers assist Dickerson by reading to and interacting with children, as well as helping to select appropriate reading level books to encourage reading as a fun, stress-relieving activity. “The youth also relate better to the younger adults and benefit from the opportunity to build mentoring relationships with the students who serve as role models to emulate,” Dickerson says. Since its inception in 2011, Cops ’n’ Kids of Easton, with the help of its volunteers, has distributed 128,000 books to kids in the Easton area community.

Why I heart Landis

“Cops ‘n’ Kids of Easton is an all-volunteer organization. In these times when fewer people are volunteering, the Landis Center provides the people needed to sustain the organization. I love the Landis Center for the flexible, student-focused staff that remains available to fill a need when requested with regular communication. I also admire the Landis Center because it provides its student volunteers with opportunities to get a well-rounded educational experience as part of their personal development by working with diverse cultural, racial, and economic levels that many of the students have not been exposed to as they provide the extra hands needed. As the saying goes, ‘It takes a village.’ Landis Center is valuable and appreciated for being part of the social and educational network of the broader Easton community.”

Categorized in: Campus life, Community, Community Impact, Community-Based Learning and Research, Faculty and Staff, Featured News, Landis Center, News and Features, Student Profiles, Students

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