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Updated 2:30 PM April 12, 2006
 

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Fair celebrates University-community collaboration



In the shadow of a fire-ravaged home in southwest Detroit’s Delray neighborhood sits the People’s Community Services center—which 40 U-M juniors and seniors have been visiting this semester to help neighborhood children with reading, computer skills and more.

Katie McMahon, 11, of the Ann Arbor Academy, points at her image captured in a video taken by a Residential College class, one of 58 projects exhibited during the 4th Annual Symposium on Community Based Work. (Photo by Lin Jones, U-M Photo Services)

This project involving University students and faculty was one of 58 presented March 28 at the 4th Annual Symposium on Community Based Work: Partnerships that Prosper. The symposium featured workshops, speeches and an afternoon project fair, with participants showing photos, charts and other materials in the Pendleton Room of the Michigan Union.

Student volunteers required several poster boards to show materials on their work at the People’s Community Services center. While the most recent U.S. Census track reveals the average Delray household income is $19,375 and many neighborhood buildings are distressed, senior Allie McGonagle said the children are positive. “They’re very willing to try reading, they’re happy to play, they’re very welcoming—they want to play and talk.”

Urban planning graduate students Claire Vlach and Bob Cameron flanked a poster board depicting work their group has contributed to this semester to promote the Tech Town design project. Detailed on their placard was a drawing of an Amtrak train bisecting a revitalized downtown Detroit neighborhood surrounded by Woodward Avenue to the east, I-94 to the south, the Lodge Freeway to the west, and railroad tracks to the north just south of the New Center area.

Plans call for new sidewalks and other improved links to surrounding business areas. Vlach said the students’ initial design ideas have been presented to sponsors for possible tweaking before final plans are shared with potential project sponsors. “Some of the main goals are to make it pedestrian viable again, and connect it to other parts of Detroit,” she said.

The symposium was developed to provide an opportunity for students, faculty and community partners to share and showcase their collaborative work, says Mary Beth Damm, Ginsberg Center for Community and Service Learning associate director for community service learning.

The Poetry of Everyday Life class, developed by Julie Ellison of the English Department, pairs undergraduate students in the Residential College with students ages 8-12 attending the Ann Arbor Academy. While some activities were detailed in a poster board presentation, video footage also was used to show U-M students leading younger children in activities. “It gives them an opportunity to explore nature with college students, and they can find out things about themselves they didn’t know they already had,” said Rosemarie Hester, with the academy.

Liz Goodenough, a lecturer in literature at the Residential College, teaches the 13 U-M students participating in the seminar, which is focused on poetry and drawing as ways to discover nature along the Huron River watershed in an urbanizing world. Activities include field trips.

Lia Wolock, a LSA junior studying South Asian Studies and English, talked of her experience volunteering with the South Asian Progressive Alliance (SAPA), dedicated to social action and awareness in the South Asian community. “I didn’t realize what it really meant to get involved; it’s so powerful,” she said. The group this semester put on a poetry slam featuring Sri Lankan poet D’Lo. Wolock worked on a Residential College Auditorium presentation, “South Asian Vaginas Speak,” inspired by the touring “Vagina Monologues” production, which promotes female expression. SAPA also promotes coalition and community building through political, cultural and social events.

Damm said the Ginsberg Center presents the project fair in part to publicize the volume of community-based work that is going on through courses, faculty research, University departments and student groups.

“The project fair was inspiring to me because so many students, faculty and staff are working with community partners on projects that make a difference in learning and in solving community challenges,” said Margaret Dewar, Emil Lorch Professor of Architecture + Planning and Ginsberg Center faculty director.

“Professor Mick Kennedy’s (lecturer in architecture) students’ class project is a good illustration of this,” Dewar said. “Kennedy’s architecture students are taking his course in construction. As their major class project they are designing wheelchair ramps for the homes of elderly residents in southwest Detroit in partnership with the nonprofit organization Bridging Communities. They will also build the ramps if they can raise the funds to do so.

“This is a vital lesson about being a good citizen in a world full of inequity. If that learning stays with them they may well make valued contributions to addressing social issues throughout their careers.”

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