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COPC aims for neighborhood partnerships

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Calvin students with Burton Heights partners - click photo to enlarge image
Calvin Spanish students Mark Hofman (l.) and Erin Westmaas (r.) partner with business owners in the Burton Heights neighborhood.

During spring semester, two Calvin freshmen spent up to two hours every Wednesday night at a convenience store in a rundown neighborhood helping the storeowners slake their thirst for English.

"The first night we reviewed different types of containers. Another night Danilo was especially interested in learning monetary and bank terms. He'd been extremely frustrated that a bank teller hadn't understood him," said Calvin freshman Erin Westmaas, who, with freshman Mark Hofman, chose a service-learning option for Spanish 202.

Besides working through lessons provided by Spanish professor Jan Evans, the students and storeowners talked about life. "We learned about their life in the Dominican Republic. Danilo and Suna insisted on hearing what we study at Calvin. As I watch my 'students' see my language in a new light, it's almost as if I'm seeing a new language emerge. I think it is Christ's language of love," Hofman said.

Improving their Spanish while tutoring people who desire better English is just one example of how students benefit from a new partnership between Calvin and the Burton Heights/Garfield Park neighborhood. Calvin's Service-Learning Center received a $399,949 grant from HUD's COPC (Community Outreach Partnership Centers) program to pay for faculty release time and hire a project coordinator. Several Calvin departments are working with neighborhood agencies on four issues: housing, health, education and business.

"Academically based service-learning is the heart and soul of this program. HUD developed COPC to change the paradigm of how a college or university works in a neighborhood. In the old way, students enter a neighborhood, gather information, write dissertations, then leave. The community feels used. The new way is to take up a physical presence in the neighborhood and partner with others to strengthen community fabric in specific areas," said Steve Timmermans, Calvin@Burton Heights Partnership project director.

The Burton Heights/Garfield Park area shifted dramatically from 1990 (61% Anglo, 17% Black, 26% Hispanic) to 2000 (21% Anglo, 12% Black, 63% Hispanic). "So often rapid change brings multiple problems, but this neighborhood has many strengths. It has a chance," Timmermans said.

Helping the community seize its chance depends on listening to and acting on residents' concerns. And really listening often requires understanding Spanish, the first language of COPC Project Coordinator Deyni Ventura. Working out of the Garfield Development Corporation office, she masterminds placements, such as those between Spanish students and Burton Heights Business Association members.

"When I led a focus group at Buchanan School, over 50 people came. Only two spoke English," said Gail Gunst Heffner, associate director for applied and community-based research at the Calvin Center for Social Research. Calvin Spanish professors and students helped transcribe and translate at focus groups. Heffner and Ventura then wrote a bilingual survey so nursing and Spanish students could go door-to-door asking neighbors more about health concerns.

"We want to understand whether people have access to health care. Is language a barrier? Transportation? Money? We ask about diabetes, prescription coverage and open-ended questions. If we really listen, then we can provide care more congruent with what residents really need," said Gail Zandee, who is developing Calvin's new community-based nursing program in partnership with neighborhood clinics.

Focus groups cited traffic as a major concern. Urban geography students consulted with Julio Canto, a crime prevention organizer for Garfield Park Neighborhood Association. They walked streets, analyzed parking patterns, mapped accident data and researched traffic calming measures before proposing solutions to residents and the city traffic office.

Buchanan School students score poorly on statewide science tests, so Calvin education students tutored fourth graders in an after-school program that uses computers to make science fun. Business students worked with local business owners on a Christmas lighting project. Sociology students helped organize a housing fair.

"Burton Heights offers many opportunities for professors to integrate cross-cultural engagement—a new core curriculum requirement-into many courses. Calvin's expanded mission calls us to strengthen community ties. We expect to remain involved in Burton Heights long after the COPC grant ends," Timmermans said.

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BurtonHeights

Partner organizations, press releases

Health Fair
Nursing students partner with the Creston Neighborhood Association

Department of Housing and Urban Development

Community Outreach Partnership Centers Program

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Serving to Learn; Learning to Searve

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