[ Update ]

"Engaged Colleges are Central to Strong Communities"

by Carole Mayhall, Grants Coordinator, NTAC/ESLARP

Administered by HUD's office of University Partnerships (OUP), the COPC Program is open to accredited public or private nonprofit institutions of higher education granting 2- or 4-year degrees. COPC provides 3-year grants of up to $400,000 to encourage institutions of higher education to join in partnerships with their communities.

Community Outreach Partnership Centers are expected to play an active and visible role in community revitalization - applying research to real urban problems, coordinating outreach efforts with neighborhood groups and residents, acting as a local information exchange, galvanizing support for neighborhood revitalization, developing public service projects and instructional programs, and collaborating with other COPCs.

Ms. Fern Watts, President of the South End New Development Organization (SENDO), accompanied Billie Turner, Nonprofit Coordinator, and Carole Mayhall, Grants Coordinator from The Neighborhood Technical Assistance Center. The 2003 COPC Conference was held at the Westin Horton Plaza Hotel in San Diego. The University of California San Diego and the San Diego Community college District hosted the conference on April 24-26. Both hosts are participants in the COPC New Directions program as is the University of Illinois East St. Louis Action Research Project (ESLARP). The conference activities were guided by an overall theme of the important role colleges and Universities can play in the vitality of a healthy community: "Building Partnerships to Build Healthy Communities".

The three participants presented at a Breakout Session at the conference entitled "Coalition Building for Campus Community Partnerships". Ms. Watts represented her Neighborhood as a Community Partner, distributing SENDO brochures to those in attendance. One high point relayed by Ms. Watts at the presentaiton was when she pointed out that SENDO membership attendance at neighborhood meetings more than doubled after the University of Illinois conducted a survey in the neighborhood. The detailed residential survey conducted in 2002, covered neighborhood assets and deficits; where do people shop; what would they like to see in their neighborhood; and the overall background of the residents. One attendee from the University of Northern Iowa was so impressed that he requested a copy of the survey. Billie Turner is facilitating getting that to him.

Ms. Watts concluded her presentation by praising the accomplishments of the students of the University of Illinois. She also wanted to give special recognition to Stacey Howard, Lynne Dearborn, Laurie Lawson, and Vicki Eddings for all their sincere dedication to her community.

In attending a roundtable on "Racial Harmony", Ms. Watts comments that she had not experienced racial inharmony in her life, but realized after hearing this discussion that we all need to come out of our shell and look beyond our comfort zone. She believes that the key is communication, communication, communication, and listening, listening, listening to each other. A memorable and thought-provoking quote at this roundtable was: "When White People come to the table, we must have the table set."

Ms. Watts also wants to share what she learned about housing information in communities. In our community we have public housing, CDBG and other services to help people acquire housing. Many communities do not have these services, but there are monies available to hire consultants for disseminating housing information such as grants, loans, available housing, etc. Universities can apply for this money through HUD to provide these services to communities.

Billie Turner attended a breakout session entitled "How your institution can get involved in revitalization". Case studies were presented by Howard University, The University of Maryland at Baltimore and Mercer University. The representative from Howard showed slides that were reminiscent of East St. Louis neighborhoods. The representative admitted that Howard had made a mistake when they bought homes adjacent to the university that they eventually failed to maintain. When residents complained to University officials, it became a reminder to Howard that they needed to get back into the community and develop their credibility with the residents. They began to help rehabbing homes, contributing their own money and using their own architect. The homes in the neighborhood ranged in price from $89,000 to $212,000. Two-thirds of the available homes were purchased by university employees. Residents and the University are now vying for a National African American Museum in their neighborhood. This plan is ongoing at this time.

The University of MD. had much the same problem in that residents did not trust their involvement in the community. Issues centered on racial tension. Residents had not forgotten the segregation that existed in that city in which the university was involved. In addition there was mistrust in the university hospital motives, with the perception among African Americans that they might be doing research using African Americans.
The University worked with residents to rebuild the relationship through many methods. One was holding smaller meetings where people were able to communicate one-on-one. As expected, there was some turn-over of leadership during this time. Mistrust which had resulted from inconsistency in the communication from the University was dispelled and eventually a partnership was formed. The collaboration resulted in the successful creation of a Village Center. The residents are now working together to maintain their neighborhood. This need for this cohesive voice between the University and the Community is one lesson that was learned from this experience.

Mercer University, in Macon, GA. is a good example of a University that invested their own money into a local community with no guarantee of a return. The mayor and the Economic Director actually drove the University President through the deteriorating downtown area to show them how bad the area had become. As a result of this experience, Mercer University put money into the community by purchasing 18 properties on which they put new homes. Mercer Staff purchased one-half of the properties. This neighborhood is now being benefited by a COPC grant. The University was able to do research on marketing of housing and include more stakeholders, learning that they had to change things from the inside, not the outside. Bringing in the new residents and new partners, including local government, invested in the neighborhood set up a cycle that increased workforce initiatives, job availability and economic development.

Carole Mayhall remarks that the conference emphasized the extent to which communities and Universities can come together to develop creative solutions that are mutually beneficial. One outstanding concept that was repeated at the conference was the idea that collaborations between communities and universities/colleges cannot be successful unless there is commitment from the top down. You must have the support and dedication of the president on down to be successful.