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Community Service creates bridges

By Hallie Jordan     8/24/11 7:00pm

Rice students and Fifth Ward Houston will soon work together under a new service program called Community Bridges. 

Students that can apply for this fellowship will be placed in nonprofit organizations that are already set up in the Fifth Ward and will volunteer with them each week. 

"Organizations working for human and community development, especially in economically poorer areas, face incredible challenges — too many needs to meet with too few resources," Institute for Urban Research Co- Director Michael Emerson said, "An essential goal of this program is to help narrow that gap by providing more resources."



Students can apply to be a part of this fellowship up until September 12. Those who are accepted will be enrolled in a sociology class specifically created for the program, SOCI 470. They will then meet once a week for an hour with Sociology Professor Emerson and spend five to seven hours a week in the Fifth Ward. 

The class credit is four hours. Applicants will be notified of their status by October 1. Community Bridges hopes to have 22 students. 

"Students want to do more volunteer work but don't have time because of too much academic work; this way, they can incorporate it into their schedules without compromising academics," Program Coordinator Jecca Steinberg said, "We want anyone who has any interest in working on poverty-related issues for class credit."

Students start volunteering and taking the class in the spring semester after background checks and orientations happen this fall. 

Students will be assigned to one of five nonprofit organizations depending on their skills and interests. Possible organization placements include the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Corporation, Smalls Steps Nurturing Center, YES Prep, Julia C. Hester House and Pleasant Hill Baptist Ministries. 

The work at the nonprofits could include researching and helping an organization implement their services so that they have a positive impact, such as with the Julia C. Hester House, an organization that researches Hispanic and Black relations in the Fifth Ward, Steinberg (Brown ‘11) said. 

Steinberg has worked to get grants to make sure that the students are not a burden on the organization, she said. 

"I just feel really fortunate that Rice students will be able to have this as an opportunity," Steinberg said. "It is amazing how everything has fallen into place."

Steinberg proposed the idea for this program after working on several volunteer projects as a student at Rice. She really wanted it to be in Houston so that students could form a relationship with various nonprofit organizations here, Steinberg said. 

"Our students will benefit by learning firsthand the material we discuss in class and, what I think is most important, dealing with the "messiness" of the real world in ways that are beneficial," Emerson, the professor who will teach the related class, said. 

The Fifth Ward was chosen as the location for the projects because Emerson already has a connection with that community through service projects and through working in community development centers. 

The Fifth Ward is located in North East Houston bounded by the Buffalo Bayou, Interstate 10 and Highway 59. It was founded in 1866 by freed slaves and was an active, vibrant African American community until desegregation in the 1960s, when it became known for violence and crime, Steinberg said. 

"We are working toward revitalizing it," Steinberg said. "Despite its reputation, it is still a culturally interesting area but it has intense poverty and unemployment."

Community Bridges is now part of the Institute for Urban Research at Rice. 

"It's a really exciting program and unlike many others at the Kinder Institute," Anthony Potoczniak, Executive Director for the Institute for Urban Research said, "It's these kind of relations with these organizations that will last a long time."

Applicants will be chosen based on an application at http://www.kinder.rice.edu/ Bridges2.aspx. The application includes four short essay questions covering students' previous experiences with service projects and asks for a demonstration of how they care about issues related to poverty, Steinberg said. Students also need to provide an academic transcript and a resume. 



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