The Course introduces students to the social, political, economic and cultural forces shaping communities today. Emphasis is on the role of race, class and gender relations in urban social issues and the processes through which successful community intervention occurs at the local level: community organizing, participatory planning, advocacy planning, community development. Students explore the dynamics of community building and social change by focusing on the interplay between communities, leaders, institutions, and change processes through team projects, individual assignments and community service activities in the surrounding community. This year we participated in community projects in the Emerson Park (EPDC) and South End (SENDO) neighborhoods in East St. Louis, Illinois. The course was supported by a Partnership Illinois "COMMUNITY-BASED LEARNING GRANT" from the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement and Institutional Relations at the University of Illinois. As part of the class requirement students participated in at least one ESLARP outreach weekend.
Every student participated in a team project that involved working with a neighborhood organization in East St. Louis. This summer the instructor and one of the teaching assistants met with two East St. Louis neighborhood organizations to identify a set of projects that could be accomplished in a semester and also be useful for the neighborhood organizations. The projects varied considerably—they included mapping infrastructure conditions in a neighborhood, T-shirt design, grant writing, organizing a career day for teens on the UIUC campus, etc. Each student applied for a community development project based on their interests and skills.
Below find brief descriptions of the projects and links to the final products.
Boundaries: SENDO members are in agreement that they need to expand their organization’s neighborhood boundaries because the current boundaries do not accurately represent the neighborhood. Therefore SENDO would like to establish the correct boundaries. It is very important to the group to make this change because key members live in the area and a new school and public housing complex are also situated in this proposed expansion area. For SENDO to engage in community development efforts, they need to formally change the boundaries as well as begin to identify neighborhood concerns and issues. Link to map 1 and map 2.
Grants: SENDO is currently at a stage where funding is necessary to expand the scope of the organization. They have successfully built a core group of active members and have plans for what they would like to see happen in the neighborhood. They also have the necessary tax-exempt status to apply for funding. The organization needs assistance identifying appropriate grant opportunities and assistance applying for one or more of these grants.
Web site: Developing a website is one way SENDO can increase their visibility. This site would have information about the organization, the neighborhood, members and some history. Appropriate links and photographs need to be incorporated as well. Some of the information is currently available on the ESLARP web page but SENDO would like a “slicker” looking page with updated information about the organization. Much of the materials about the South End neighborhood and SENDO are not well-organized, so this group will also do some organizing.
Promotional materials: (Links to final products: Picture of T-shirt, Pens, Business cards, Ordering information) Currently, SENDO has a small committee working on developing promotional materials. For example, T-shirts, pens, and/or notepads with the SENDO motto and logo which promote the work they are doing as an organization. At this point it has not been decided whether these items will be given away or purchased by members. Selling the items as a fundraising project needs to be considered --how much over cost to charge, how many items must be sold to make the fund raiser worthwhile.
No Dumping: (Links to final products: Flyer, children's booklet, magnet) The South End neighborhood and East St. Louis in general, have for years dealt with the problem of illegal dumping. Usually, the illegal dumping is caused by people who live and work outside of the neighborhood. They drive into the neighborhood late at night (sometimes armed) and leave behind piles of trash, tires, old appliances and sofas. This is particularly problematic at vacant sites since the land owner lives elsewhere. South End residents are frustrated by the sight of illegal dumping as well as the other problems it creates. The garbage smells, attracts rats and stray dogs, and in general makes the neighborhood look uncared for. SENDO believes that if more residents knew about how to report illegal dumping as well as how to get rid of unwanted items, the illegal dumping could be controlled.
Emerson Park Development Corporation is in the process of creating their third comprehensive neighborhood plan to guide future development in the area. They have asked us to help them with some data collection about infrastructure, vacant land/illegal dumping, green space and sidewalk/street conditions in the neighborhood. Assessing the condition of the neighborhood will assist community members to determine appropriate actions for improving the quality of life. The project will involve walking up and down every street in the neighborhood and noting particular features on an aerial map of the neighborhood. UP260 Students will be accompanied by local neighborhood residents and/or EPDC’s YouthBuild students. This larger project has been divided into the following subgroups: 1) Infrastructure: Stop signs/signs/lights/manhole/fire hydrants /etc., 2) Walkability: Streets/sidewalks, 3) Green space: Trees/green space and 4) Vacant land and illegal dumping.
Infrastructure Study in Emerson Park, (Maps: stopsigns, streetlights, manholes, other signs, sewers, firehydrants)
Vacant Land Study in Emerson Park, (Maps: 1997 vacant land, 2004 vacant land)
Green Space Study in Emerson Park, (Maps: Old maps, final map, before-after pictures)
Walkability in Emerson Park (PowerPoint presentation, Maps: Legend, Sidewalk condition, Street condition, Intersections in bad condition, Brick Streets)
YouthBuild Career Day at UIUC (Itinerary, Pre-visit survey, Post-visit survey, Picture of presentation boards): EPDC operates a youth build and charter school program that works to help “at risk” youth obtain their high school diploma and train them in construction/carpentry skills. While some of the students are academically strong they have not, to any great extent, been exposed to the idea of pursuing a college degree or visited a college campus and experienced campus. EPDC has asked us to plan a one-day event in late October or early November for approximately 25 students. The YouthBuild students will be accompanied by their EPDC staff as well. This group must plan and execute a full day of activities including visits to academic departments, tours through the dorms, learning about student organization and participating in campus activities/events. This group will spent a Friday in East St. Louis at the charter school to get to know the students and experience a typical day at the Youth Build program.
SWOT analysis is a technique to analyze the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats of a decision, problem, place, etc. In community development and urban planning, SWOT is often used at community meetings to structure conversations about quality of life in a neighborhood or a controversial project. Carrying out this analysis often illuminates what needs to be done and puts problems into perspective. Students in UP260 completed a SWOT on the experience of doing community based learning. Link to exercise handout. Link to results.
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Students were asked to reflect on their experiences working on community development projects. Click the link to see examples of their reactions.