Community Bridges builds connections to Fifth Ward
Published: Thursday, August 23, 2012
Updated: Thursday, August 23, 2012 20:08
A group of Rice students are working to bridge the poverty gap in Houston’s Fifth Ward.
Community Bridges, started in 2011, is a fellowship program that works together with the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the Center for Civic Engagement and the Office of the Dean of Undergraduates to connect Rice and Houston’s Fifth Ward and to develop sustainable, long-term solutions for reducing poverty, according to the Community Bridges website.
Although the Fifth Ward, located on the northeast side of Houston, was the vibrant economic center of Houston’s African-American community in the 1950s, the neighborhood has deteriorated considerably over the past few decades. Today, it is mostly populated by low-income African-American and Hispanic residents and is plagued by high levels of crime and poverty, according to the Fifth Ward Housing Study conducted in February 2011 by Rice’s Kinder Institute.
Community Bridges Coordinator Christina Rojas (Brown ’12) said that while many community leaders, including the current executive director of Houston Habitat for Humanity, Algenita Scott Davis, and Barbara Jordan, the first Southern black congresswoman elected to the United States House of Representatives, have come out of the Fifth Ward, most residents struggle to break out of this impoverished neighborhood.
Rojas said Community Bridges began working with the Fifth Ward because it was a community that sought self-improvement.
“We thought we could partner with [the community],” Rojas said. “It wouldn’t be Rice going in and saying, ‘We’re going to save you,’ but more ‘We’re going to stand next to you and support you.’”
Kinder Institute Co-Director Michael Emerson said Community Bridges works with the Fifth Ward because the neighborhood has a great capacity for revitalization.
“The Fifth Ward is the last inner-core neighborhood in Houston that has the chance to be redeveloped and not gentrified,” Emerson, a Rice sociology professor, said.
Community Bridges partners with six organizations in the Fifth Ward: YES Prep Fifth Ward, the Fifth Ward Community Redevelopment Center, Covenant Community Capital, Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, Small Steps Nurturing Center and the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program.
Pleasant Hill Baptist Church
Pleasant Hill Baptist Church, founded in 1925, serves as a community center for the residents of the Fifth Ward, providing educational, cultural and spiritual outreach programs, according to the Community Bridges website. One of these programs is the Leadership Institute, a tutoring and mentoring program for students in grades six through 11. The program’s aim is to give students a safe environment and fun, but educational activities outside of school, according to the Pleasant Hill website.
Community Bridges Fellow Kiara Douds, who volunteered at the Leadership Institute as a tutor and mentor and helped develop curriculum in writing and grammar, said she thought the program was a good educational supplement.
“Tutoring gives the students the extra one-on-one help that they don’t get at school,” Douds, a Hanszen College senior, said.
Pastoral Assistant Joel Goza said the fellows of the Community Bridges program filled a huge need for tutors and mentors. He said he believes the assistance Rice students provide to the Leadership Institute is mutual.
“The Leadership Institute offers college and graduate students a different sort of education by bringing students out of the classroom and into the lived realities of Houston’s inner-city youth,” Goza said. “The Community Bridges program provides a wonderful blend of classroom analysis and practical training for its students and is an unequaled resource of knowledge for those working in the Fifth Ward community.”