Susannah Berry ’16 is spending her summer at the historically-rich site for the Underground Railroad History Project of the Capital Region (URHPCR) in Albany, N.Y. This internship is part of the larger AmeriCorps Summer Service Scholars program, which offers individuals the opportunity to become engaged in a community through an existing Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) project for eight to 10 weeks during the summer.
Berry’s internship has included multi-faceted responsibilities, such as conducting social media outreach for the organization and its community events. Since July, she has also helped to facilitate the URHPCR’s summer program for teenagers in which students are placed in different groups based on interests. An anthropology major, Berry is leading the archeology-focused group of young people and has worked closely with high school students to understand how archeology can help us gain insight into the lives of people from the 19th century, including freedom seekers passing through Albany on the way to freedom.
“Working with teens has been a new experience and has helped me understand how to run interactive, fun, yet informative lessons, which helps motivate my group to ask interesting questions and use critical thinking skills,” she reflects.
The URHPCR operates out of the Stephen and Harriet Myers Residence in the Arbor Hill section of Albany. The African-American couple, Stephen and Harriet Myers, was committed to abolition during the 1850s, and their home was a place of refuge for freedom seekers traveling through Albany. Stephen Myers was freed at age 18, and his life’s work revolved around forming a Vigilance Committee and helping other freedom seekers.
“I spent a big portion of June studying the history of the Underground Railroad in Albany, and the Myers’ role specifically, and familiarizing myself with the home’s artifacts,” Berry says. “Over 3,000 artifacts have been found in the house as well as in the backyard.”
Berry was able to obtain her internship through collaboration with the HWS Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL) Office. As an institution dedicated to civic engagement, HWS pledges to partially match the AmeriCorps stipend for its students in order to allow all to participate in a meaningful service opportunity that is mutually-beneficial.
While Berry is helping the organization by expanding its outreach and volunteer base in addition to facilitating its summer program, she is also gaining skills and experiences that will enable her to succeed in future career paths. In the fall, Berry will be CCESL’s Civic Leader for the Big Brother Big Sister program.
“Studying artifacts and helping in an archaeological dig in the backyard, is absolutely related to anthropology as these finds teach us about the Myers’ world,” Berry says. “Additionally, I have worked closely with a small group of four teenagers during July, which has been a great experience as I’m also been interested in the possibility of teaching. I’m looking forward to using what I have learned to find connections to my anthropology and education classes.”