Temple Times Online Edition
    SEPTEMBER 30, 2004
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Forging the ties that bind

The University is making steady strides in reaching out to and forming partnerships with its neighbors in North Philadelphia

Alexandria Hill (left), a senior psychology/advertising major, shares a laugh with Kristine DeJesus (second from left), a counselor in Tuttleman Counseling Services; Jeremy Frank (second from right), coordinator of Tuttleman Counseling Services’ Campus Alcohol and Substance Awareness unit; and Campus Safety Capt. Jeffrey L. Chapman after receiving some practical items through Temple’s Welcome Wagon program.

For John DiMino, director of Tuttleman Counseling Services, all of Temple’s interactions with its North Philadelphia neighbors ought to flow from the same construct: gardening.

In the most literal sense, he’s already succeeding. As co-chairman of the Division of Student Affairs’ Civic Responsibility committee, DiMino is leading an effort to nurture a garden in what was once an abandoned lot near the Sonia Sanchez mural at Carlisle and Diamond streets. On Sept. 4, Sanchez blessed the idea when she and nearly 100 others were guests at a barbecue that Temple hosted near the garden for local residents.

But DiMino and a host of Temple administrators, staff members and students have designs on extending the garden metaphor to its most fruitful conclusion — the University as a responsible steward in the civic progress of North Philadelphia. As surging demand for on-campus housing relocates more students into the surrounding community — according to a fall 2003 census, more than 1,300 students are living near Main Campus in non-Temple-sponsored housing — the future of Temple is clearly intermingled with that of North Philadelphia.

“What we’re doing with the Sonia Sanchez garden is very symbolic of community service efforts throughout the neighborhood,” DiMino said. “It becomes very philosophical, the whole question of what do you choose to do with the garden you have? Do you nurture it for the greater good?”

DiMino hopes the University is doing just that by forging lasting partnerships with community leaders that will increase the quality of life for city residents. One of the linchpins in that collaboration is the Welcome Wagon, a program that encourages civic responsibility among students living off campus.

Overseen by Jeremy Frank, coordinator for the Campus Alcohol and Substance Awareness unit, an arm of Tuttleman Counseling Services, this year’s Welcome Wagon program distributed practical tools for responsible living, such as trash cans and cleaning supplies, to more than 60 student homes. They also advised students on local ordinances, gave tips for safe partying and made them aware of dates for trash and recycling pickup.

“Students were very appreciative of everything we gave them and the time we spent there,” said Frank, who recruited teams of students, administrators and staff to distribute the materials during the first week of classes. “We wanted to impress upon them the importance of being a good neighbor. One of the simplest ways you can do that is to clean up after yourself, and the Welcome Wagon enables us to approach students in a way that isn’t seen as lecturing or criticizing them about it.”

During summer orientation, about 45 freshmen volunteered to clear rubble and debris from what was once an abandoned lot near the Sonia Sanchez mural at Carlisle and Diamond streets. There’s now a core group of five to 10 people who work at turning the lot into a garden. John DiMino, director of Tuttleman Counseling Services, started the project after having met with block leaders and discovering this was something needed in that area. Now, with the help of the Office of Community Service, he encourages students living in that area to pitch in.

With the help of Campus Safety Services, Frank homed in on student residences adjacent to the northwest boundary of campus, which has the highest concentration of off-campus students.

Capt. Eileen Bradley, who is in regular contact with block captains in Temple’s neighborhood, said the 3-year-old program is already resonating with students and community members.

“I can say that so far this semester, we have not had any complaints from residents in those areas,” Bradley said. “I think that’s a result of the Welcome Wagon program.”

In addition to the obvious gains in keeping the community clean, the program shores up Temple’s relationship with its neighbors in more subtle ways.

“One of the biggest pluses of the program was seeing the interaction between the Welcome Wagon participants, the students and the residents,” Frank said. “I think it’s very important that the students and residents see people from Temple who really care about the community. A resident may have had a negative experience with a student house on the block in the past, but us being in the community shows that that is not representative of the culture at Temple.”

To Bradley, the overarching goal of any dealings with the surrounding neighborhood — be it community service, responding to residents or assisting students — ought to demonstrate that the University is vested in the well-being of North Philadelphia.

“Welcome Wagon is a great way to start the semester, but we can’t stop there,” she said. “It needs to be the opening to an ongoing relationship with our neighbors, a process that involves listening to their feedback and helping them in any way we can. This program opens those lines of communication.”

In keeping with DiMino’s doctrine of North Philadelphia as a garden benefiting from Temple’s attentive cultivation, all parties agree that the University’s service initiatives must be undertaken with an eye toward stretching its roots deep into the community. Such efforts can be hampered by the transient nature of college life — a new batch of students settles in the area each academic year. The hope is, however, that the bond between the University and its neighbors transcends such change.

“Students may not feel as connected to the area because they are only living at that location for nine months out of the year,” Frank said. “But by meeting with block captains and seeing the residents, the students can start to realize that they are living in a neighborhood that people are deeply connected to and care about very much. We’re hoping that makes them want to be more respectful toward their neighbors.”

- By Ted Boscia