CCE Director Rachel Flom: Advocating for community engagement

“It takes a village,” said Director of the Center for Community Engagement and Social Change (CCE) Rachel Flom on changing a community through service. This firm belief of collective engagement has been at the heart of Flom’s volunteering endeavors at Lawrence and beyond.  

Her love for community engagement, which goes all the way back to when she was in Girl Scouts, has taken many forms throughout her life and has been especially focused on youth-facing service. One of her most long-standing commitments has been with the Miracle League of the Fox Valley, an organization helping primary school students with disabilities engage in baseball, every summer since she was in seventh grade. Her time with the Miracle League led her to pursue a dual degree in elementary education and special education at the University of Wisconsin– Madison, where she found a passion for supporting learning.  

Flom made this newfound passion the center of her graduate work at UW-Oshkosh. Since she was tasked with tailoring a program with work that she was most interested in, she dedicated herself to work in youth-facing social justice. She acted as both an intern and an academic coach for the UW-Oshkosh Trio Program for low-income and first-generation students, students of color and students with disabilities, all of whom Flom has a great passion for working with.  

“Everyone has a right to education,” Flom declared. “Especially for all these populations of folks who have been historically denied the right to education. So, when I got to work with them, that really helped me understand […] the [diverse] needs within higher education.”  

Flom especially found her time as an academic coach rewarding; she talked with college students on academic probation to figure out what challenges they were facing and how to help mitigate some of the hinderances so they could achieve academic success.  

Around this time, higher education began to interest Flom. Since she hails from the Appleton area, she had always known about Lawrence. When she was looking for opportunities in the area, the position in the CCE checked all her boxes—a strong focus on community service, work in the Appleton area with numerous causes she either had served with before or was passionate about—and decided to take a chance on it.  

“It was just this really perfect package of all these interests and professional areas I have expertise in,” Flom said.  

Flom’s time at Lawrence started in March of 2023, and she hit the ground running; less than a month into the role, she had already begun taking steps towards her all-new program, Spring Into Service, an event which brings local nonprofits to Lawrence to introduce students to service opportunities. In the first month of working on the project, she spoke with students, staff and faculty alike about what service opportunities were already established, where Lawrence was doing well and what were spots for improvement. She quickly realized through engaging with these groups that some students were hesitant to take part in community engagement because of the unknown environment.  

Photo of Rachel Flom. Photo provided by Rachel Flom.

“Going out into the greater Appleton community can be really off-putting if students don’t know what to expect,” Flom said. “And so, my idea behind creating Spring Into Service [was] to get out into the nice weather and bring some of those community organizations and projects to campus so students can dip their toes in the water and get comfortable [engaging with the community] without having to go to a location they are unfamiliar with or interact with complete strangers and not have their friends or roommates with them.”  

The event took place on Main Hall Green and included a cookout as well as opportunities for students to engage in small acts of service, such as putting together hygiene kits, to help educate students on their opportunities. Flom commented on how wonderful it was to see students who may not have otherwise interacted come together and offer their time to important local causes. She hopes the event will encourage Lawrence to serve their community for years to come.  

Flom’s belief that education is a fundamental right is helping to direct her future as Director of the CCE. She hopes to create more first-generation initiatives going forward, especially helping to provide volunteer experiences to first-generation students.  

“There [is] this worldview of volunteering [being] only for the people who have the know-how […]or the folks for which it can easily fit into their schedule,” Flom said. “I want to make sure that all students at Lawrence who want to volunteer and want to engage with their community are given the resources to do so.”  

As she plans more events and opportunities for Lawrence, Flom hopes to remain cognizant of what causes are of current interest to students and the Appleton community. She recognizes that what is important to a community is constantly changing with the times based on what is happening in the world around us. To keep up with this, she hopes to keep close contact with students as she continues to engage and help Lawrentians engage with the community.  

“One of the best things about this [position] […] is the fact that every day, I know what I am doing is making the community better,” Flom said. “And […] without [Lawrentians’] perspectives and without their desire for change through advocacy work, we would not be able to do what we’re doing.”