August 6, 2007
Summer in the city: Learning skills for community building
By beverly Clark
Emory’s Community Building Fellows put their classroom knowledge to the test this summer while working with service agencies and partners across metro Atlanta as the capstone piece of a year’s worth of training, research and experience. As the fellows discovered, there’s classroom theory — and then there’s reality.
“In our classes, we learned about theories and concepts in community building. Applying those concepts to real-life situations was harder to implement than we thought,” said College senior Zain Ahmed, whose team worked with the Whitefoord Community Program in Atlanta’s Edgewood neighborhood.
Meeting expectations, working as a team, dealing with unforeseen obstacles and building trust with community members could be frustrating, “but it provided an incredible learning experience,” Ahmed said. “It was definitely a challenge, but one I would encourage other Emory students to take.”
A successful centerpiece of Emory’s Office of University-Community Partnerships, the Emory Community Building Fellowship is a national model for engaged learning programs. In addition to Whitefoord, the 11 fellows worked in teams with Refugee Family Services in DeKalb County and Hollowell Partners in Education (HOPE) in northwest Atlanta. Fellows also met weekly for dinners with community leaders, took field trips to sites around Atlanta and did a four-day field/service trip to New Orleans earlier in the summer.
For the Whitefoord team, their project has special resonance: The program was founded in 1995 by Emory doctor George Brumley, former chair of pediatrics, who died in 2003 with 11 members of his family in a plane crash in Kenya. Since then, the Whitefoord program has continued to run two school-based health clinics, a child development program and family education services while coping with the loss of their leader and changes in Edgewood prompted by gentrification.
The team conducted focus groups with new and long-term residents, and developed a community survey that will help inform Whitefoord’s strategic planning for the next five years.
“I think with the deeper preparation for our summer work came greater responsibility to see the work plans through. You know that people are relying on your work in a serious way,” said fellow and College junior Kimberly Quinn. “There also is a feeling of deep obligation to carry on Dr. Brumley’s legacy and help the community continue to achieve his aspirations.”
Kate Grace, who joined OUCP as director of the fellowship this past year, said the fellowship’s new structure gives students two semesters of classes, resulting in more time to prepare work plans and get to know community partners. The result has been more in-depth service and experience for students and their community partners, Grace said. The team working with Refugee Family Services collected and analyzed data that will help that nonprofit’s strategic planning, and the HOPE team gathered research to increase community involvement in local schools, resulting in a small conference this month with parents, school board members, teachers and administrators.
Overall, results of past fellows’ work include the completion of 17 projects that have produced policy change and new programs and entities. Fellows also have expanded the capacity of existing community initiatives to effectively address issues such as HIV/AIDS, affordable housing, public education quality, urban sprawl, citizen engagement and more.
Emory launched the fellowship program — the first of its kind in the United States — in 2001 with a seed gift from Emory alumnus and fashion executive Kenneth Cole, CEO and creative director of Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. and a trustee of the Kenneth Cole Foundation. Students selected for the competitive program receive a stipend of $3,500 for their summer community work, a summer housing allowance, 12 hours of academic credit and a summer tuition scholarship.