Um, WOW. I recently made the acquaintance of Rebecca Parker, the driving force behind Connections Corner at Muncie Public Library, the new Director of the Upward Bound Program at Ivy Tech Community College, and one of Muncie's 20 under 40--basically, one of the coolest people to have some iced tea with (true story--we did that). SERIOUSLY, though, she does it all. Here's the interview:
What is your official title at Muncie Public Library, and how long have you been in your role?
I've been working for Muncie Public Library since March of 2015. My current title is Technology Coordinator, and I manage the Connection Corner library branch and have done so since August of 2015.
I'm actually at the beginning of my last month with the library, as I've recently accepted a position as Director of Upward Bound at Ivy Tech Community College. I'm going to be working to establish an Upward Bound program here in Muncie that will provide support, mentorship, and educational opportunities to high school students in Muncie that are low-income, potential first-generation college students. As a first-generation college student myself, I know that there are a lot of barriers to higher education that can be daunting or prohibitive for teens from low-income families, and I want to do everything I can to help reduce or eliminate those barriers.
What is the mission of the Connection Center? What are some of the normal activities in which students engage?
The mission of Muncie Public Library is to provide accessible and innovative services responding to the reading, informational, educational, and enrichment needs of the community. Connection Corner is located in the former Conley Library and was reopened after a prolonged closure in 2012. The idea behind Connection Corner was that libraries are more than books, they're about access, information, and opportunity, and that is what we seek to provide. The digital divide is very real and impacts many lives, and we work to provide access to high-quality technology and technology education for people of all income levels, with a particular focus on creative digital media.
What are some of the coolest things students have accomplished at the center?
On a daily basis, kids come to Connection Corner to learn, challenge themselves, and create. Kids here make music, record video content, create flyers in Photoshop, and so much more.
What are the upcoming special events of which we should be aware?
Connection Corner hosts a yearly Halloween Extravaganza which just gets bigger and bigger every year. This year we're again partnering with Longfellow Elementary to create an all-out Halloween block party! Last year we had over 300 in attendance, so I can't wait to see what this year brings.
You made an inspiring transition from Ball State Student to local legend. What inspired you to put down roots in Muncie?
I don't know that I would agree with "local legend," but I'm very involved and in love with this community. All my life I've been a planner, and in every job and every city I've always said things to myself like, "When we get settled, I'd like to volunteer at the animal shelter. When we get settled, I'd like to help out with park beautification. When we get settled and get 'grown-up' jobs, I really want to join a young professional group..." Eventually I realized there was no such thing as "settled" and so I just decided when we came to Muncie that I would jump in with both feet and see what happened. What happened was pretty magical, and each project, partnership, friendship, and learning opportunity has led to another. I've learned more than I could imagine in a few short years, and enjoyed every second of it.
I see Ball State students and other young professionals every day talking about how they're going to get jobs in Indy or Chicago and get out of here, and I just want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them (with love) because there are so many amazing opportunities RIGHT HERE in Muncie. A young professional with a bit of talent, a lot of passion, and a good work ethic can build an incredibly strong and varied resume in a short time here in Muncie. This town needs good leaders and rewards those who pursue leadership. Rather than moving to a "better" place, be part of the movement to make Muncie better. Get in on the ground floor of something. Take a risk and create something wonderful here. I did, and I've loved every minute of it.
What are some of your other favorite local programs?
I love anything and everything that seeks to make our city a better, kinder, cooler place to live. From neighborhood councils, to Muncie Action Plan, to Minnetrista, MadJax, Edible Muncie, and more, there truly is something for everyone. Just ask yourself how you want to give back to the community, and I promise you that there is either already a nonprofit/community group working toward that goal, or there's a group of people that would be willing to partner with you to make it happen.
What are the best initiatives or entry points for those who would like to start volunteering?
One of the cool things I've noticed about Muncie is that there is a community within a community. If you start attending city-focused events, volunteering, and giving back, you'll start seeing the same faces again and again. Those faces belong to the people who love Muncie as much as I do, and are dedicating themselves to make it better. Talk to them, get to know them, and they will steer you in the right direction. These are the unofficial stewards of the city, and if you have passion and a little free time they will help connect you to a volunteer opportunity that is right for you. And you know what? I'm one of them! Call me and we'll do coffee and I'll get you connected. It's one of my favorite things to do.