Pitching in to help the community
Leaders from Temple and the community are collaborating to revitalize North Philly
|Brittany Walsh, a freshman pre-med major with a minor in French, participates in one of several snow shoveling efforts organized by the Office of Community Service, Campus Safety Services and Facilities Management during the winter. The photo was taken at Custis Place, east of Broad Street near Girard Avenue.
It’s an old cliché that people know that they have found their life’s work when they relish waking up and going to the office each morning.
Jason Riley does one better: He looks forward to rolling out of bed on Saturdays to come to work.
“When I first started at Temple about a year ago, I woke up early one weekend and realized that if you’re excited about getting up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday to go to work, you must love what you do,” said Riley, assistant director for community service, who is often side-by-side with students and administrators toiling in the streets of North Philadelphia.
“My job doesn’t get boring,” he continued. “I couldn’t imagine designing a more ideal position for myself. There’s a wonderful balance of being able to do everything from top to bottom here, which is rare at a university of this size.”
Riley coordinates and participates in community service projects with Temple students, administrators, faculty and staff. The net result is a service operation that used 1,500 student volunteers to donate more than 11,000 hours of work to North Philadelphia during the 2003–04 academic year.
Some of Temple’s most visible efforts have been habitual sweeps of Broad Street and other areas on the perimeter of Main Campus to resuscitate neglected neighborhoods. Riley also led a regular contingent of students to dig out Temple’s neighbors whenever heavy snow fell this winter.
Yet Riley believes there are better ways to measure the value of community service than in the number of hours contributed or sidewalks shoveled. Thus, since his arrival, he has sought to instill in the Temple community the concept of civic responsibility and how to be an upstanding neighbor to those city residents who live adjacent to Main Campus.
“The thing that distinguishes Jason’s leadership is that he first seeks to become an integral part of the community,” said Kathryn D’Angelo, associate dean of students. “Because he cultivates relationships within the community, he doesn’t see service as a program, but what you do when you are a responsible neighbor. You give of yourself and look out for one another.”
A lifelong Philadelphia resident and the recipient of the inaugural full scholarship for community service from Saint Joseph’s University, Riley has dedicated himself to enhancing his community since high school. The connections he’s made with neighborhood agencies and leaders have helped him strengthen Temple’s ties to the surrounding area.
“I’m lucky that I’ve been doing service awhile and have made all these friendships,” Riley said.
“Community service ultimately comes down to relationships. People warm up quickly when they see you working next to them. That’s why I like to be here with the students and community members. We all get a sense of ownership in the programs we work on.”
To further build this kinship with Temple’s neighbors, Riley and a small group of administrators meet twice a month with block captains and other community leaders who make up the East and West Broad Community-Campus Councils.
The point of such meetings, Riley said, is to demonstrate that Temple is dedicated to the well-being of North Philadelphia and is a partner in its development.
“We are careful, as a university, to be sensitive to the needs of our neighbors,” Riley said. “They know best how to identify and address the problems they face as a community. Our goal is to work collaboratively with our neighbors in addressing those needs.”
Since his arrival in February 2004, Riley said the University has made progress toward mending a sometimes-sour relationship with community members.
“Like many schools, Temple didn’t always get along perfectly with the surrounding area,” Riley said. “But I recently had one of the most feel-good conversations I’ve had with a community member since I came to Temple. He told me how much the community’s perception of Temple has changed.
“Five years ago, he said, Temple was an enemy. But now, he said, we are done fighting and the gloves have come off and they’re staying off. They realize that Temple is willing to be a partner to them and we can co-exist. We are moving in the right direction.”
Riley added that Temple’s students have been central to this genuine rapprochement between the University and its neighbors.
“Our students have a deep understanding of why they’re doing this work and can connect with community members,” he said. “Temple students come from all walks of life. Chances are that somebody helped them early on in life, so they know the value of extending a hand to a neighbor.”
- By Ted Boscia
Jason Riley, then and now
| Before Temple:
• As a high school junior, won a national championship as a marksman. Although his coach urged him to begin an Olympic training program, Riley dedicated himself to service instead.
• Served as vice president for the Community Service Corps of Philadelphia as a senior at Cardinal Dougherty High School.
• Took a break from his education at Saint Joseph’s University to travel with a local priest to Puerto Rico for five months and work with youth groups and the elderly. Riley has also gone on service trips to El Salvador and Mexico. “I’ve had this ineffable draw to Latin America,” Riley said.
• Graduated from Saint Joseph’s with a theology major and Spanish minor.
• After graduation, taught Spanish for one year in John W. Hallahan Catholic Girls High School in Philadelphia.
• Supervises three student service organizations: Temple’s Habitat for Humanity chapter, the Temple University Community Service Association and the Residential Organization for Community Service.
• Coordinates service immersion trips. Over winter break, 13 students and two administrators went on the office’s first-ever international service trip to assist with community development in Tijuana, Mexico. Habitat for Humanity has traveled to Florida and New Mexico during spring break to build homes for the impoverished.
• Also is a member of the Division of Student Affairs’ Civic Responsibility Committee, a body that plans education and outreach for students who want to be giving members of the North Philadelphia community.
For more information about the Office of Community Service, visit www.temple.edu/community_service.