Seated behind the wheel of a Tilton School bus, Julie Caldwell looks up into the large mirror above her head and reminds the students about where they are going, what they will see and what impact they will make. She also gives a short reminder of how they should behave: be courteous, be kind, be helpful.
It’s a cold, winter Thursday in January 2017 and Caldwell is taking the group of students to neighboring Franklin, N.H. to prepare a meal at the Bread & Roses soup kitchen housed in the Unitarian Church of Franklin. She never knows exactly how many people they will feed, but she has a good guess: roughly 50. Those who come for the weekly meal are from the area—retirees, veterans, young families with little children, young singles; people who just need a little help making ends meet.
This is a typical weeknight for Julie and her crew of community service partners from Tilton School. On Mondays they volunteer at the Spaulding Youth Center, Tuesdays they travel to the New Hampshire Veterans’ Home, Wednesdays you’ll find them at two local elementary schools, and on Fridays they help with an after-school program in Franklin. Saturdays are a catch-all day, open just in case a local group needs some yard work help or assistance with other tasks around the community.
Some trips, like the Thursday soup kitchen, require the use of a Tilton School bus. Other trips, such as the one they took to the Union Sanborn Elementary school during a Wednesday afternoon in September 2017, are close enough for students to walk.
On that particular September day at the local school, Julie helped the Tilton students check in at the Union Sanborn office and head off to the classrooms where they volunteered. A few of the Tilton students went upstairs to Tammy Nute’s first-grade classroom, where the young students were creating an art project to go with a story they had just read.
As Julie watched from the classroom doorway, the Tilton students quickly got involved, helping their little partners cut out colored paper shapes and glue them together for their art project. For those who finished early, other Tilton students were on hand to read books and do math activities. The interaction between high school student and first graders was seamless. Although this particular visit was the first of its kind for this school year, and this was the first time the Tilton students met Tammy’s class, it was impossible to tell the two groups had not been interacting together for weeks. Julie stood in the back of the room, only offering an occasional suggestion to her community service team members.
This is a typical afternoon for Julie Caldwell, who teaches Spanish during the school day. While some Tilton teachers spend their afternoons coaching, directing theater productions or advising the yearbook, Julie gets out in the community, bringing dozens of students with her every single school year.
Julie is on her second stint as a teacher at Tilton School. She first joined in 1997 as a Spanish teacher, leaving two years later to join the nationally-acclaimed music group Up With People, which connects young adults through music with social action to communities around the United States and throughout the world. While she was with the group, Julie toured across North America, as well as Denmark, Switzerland, Italy, Bosnia/Croatia, Germany, France, and Belgium. For two of her overseas visits, Julie was part of the community service set-up team, arriving one month before the full cast to organize and to coordinate the service opportunity they would participate during the time Up With People was in that location.
After Up With People, Julie spent a year teaching at a language school in Boston and then, in 2001, she came back to Tilton, resuming her role as Spanish teacher and starting the school’s community service afternoon activity.
Over the years, the community service team at Tilton School has grown. At first the activity was only offered in the fall and spring and Julie was the lone adult leading the projects. Today she works with dozens of project partners around the Tilton/Northfield/Franklin area, taking students on outreach opportunities Monday through Saturday, every season of the school year. Other faculty members also help, sometimes leading groups and other times going with Julie.
In addition, she coordinates the annual Community Service Day in April, where more than 30 groups of Tilton students and teachers fan out into the community to work on a variety of projects from spring yard work at the Mountain Ridge Senior Center to indoor spring cleaning at the soup kitchen. A few teams even stay on campus to handle projects around Tilton School, such as basic yard work and clean-up duties.
<iframe width="555" height="370" src="https://www.vidigami.com/external/slideshow/354874/4360874c7a1ddd0734000df9ca8493d6?delay=3500&autoplay=true&loop=true&transparent=false&mute=true" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
Between her weekly events and the spring service day, Julie also stays in touch with community leaders to help coordinate other projects where Tilton students can help. She regularly connects advisee groups, grade level teams, athletic teams, and other groups with projects where extra hands are needed. It might be collecting food for the soup kitchen or helping veterans write holiday cards at the N.H. Veterans Home; Julie is the bridge between the needs of the community and the helping hands of Tilton School.
Looking back, Julie sees a connection between her work now and what she was taught as a child. She remembers tagging along with her dad to Rosie’s Place, a soup kitchen in Boston that serves hot meals daily for people in need. Charlie, her father, helped coordinate volunteer groups from his company, donating their time at least once a month.
It’s these moments, along with her time at Up With People and her gap year working at a bilingual school in the south end of Boston with the urban nonprofit group City Year, that brought her to the place she is now at Tilton School and her drive to help students help others.
“That’s what has motivated me ever since,” Julie said of her experiences, “to make helping others a point of the development for the young people with whom I work. There’s going to come a time when all of us are in need. If we get in the practice of helping others, it reflects on the health of our community.”
“It’s also about having respect for each other,” she added. “Sometimes we’re overwhelmed by so many needs, but we can do what we can with what we have and encourage others to do the same.”
Another large part of Julie’s role as the Community Service Coordinator is the annual trip to the Dominican Republic, in partnership with the Batey Foundation based in Bethlehem, N.H. This March, Tilton School will send a group of 20 students and four adults to the DR to help with a variety of community projects. This is the fifth year Tilton has partnered with the foundation.
<iframe width="555" height="370" src="https://www.vidigami.com/external/slideshow/354874/e654ece3fcbf573c4eb3ce07ec2fbecd?delay=3500&autoplay=true&loop=true&transparent=false&mute=true" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen></iframe>
“This trip, and how it impacts Tilton students, is humbling and amazing,” Julie said.
“I love it as an observer, to see the students rise to the occasion,” she said of the time they spend in the Dominican Republic. “I see kids step it up with leadership. I’ve also seen some of our kids extremely humbled. It’s good for them. I’ve seen kids give their all, and it’s awesome. It’s awesome to be a part of that because it assures me that they will do it again somewhere.”
Julie and her husband, Alex, live on campus with their daughters, Ireland and India.