By Kelsi Peace, Features Editor
The Service Action Leadership Team, a student organization, is beginning its new program, Neighborhood Partners, to send students into the community. Students will become better neighbors this year as they begin walking nearby neighborhoods and establishing relationships with ACU neighbors.
Through the program, SALT plans to assemble teams of three students that will walk in a nearby neighborhood at least three times per semester, said Nancy Coburn, director of the Volunteer and Service-Learning Center and SALT adviser.
Coburn said SALT decided to partner with Connecting Caring Communities, a community organization, to accomplish a shared goal: becoming active neighbors.
“We’re going to get out there on the street and find out what people need,” Coburn said.
Neighborhood Partners is part of the caring team, the first step in CCC’s three-tiered program. The mission of the participants is to talk to the neighbors and get to know them.
“The goal of CCC is to establish a network of caring relationships throughout the community,” said Terry Davis, executive coordinator of CCC.
The next step is a Haven House, where an individual focuses specifically on one block, Davis said.
CCC concentrates on neighborhoods with high crime and drug rates.
“If you have a neighborhood that is disintegrating, we believe that relationships can break down that trend,” Davids said.
For some neighborhoods, one solution is to establish a Friendship House, the final step in CCC’s program.
Abilene has two Friendship Houses-one sponsored by Hardin-Simmons University and one sponsored by Hendrick Medical Center.
About seven ACU students volunteer each day at Hendrick Friendship House on North 17th Street, and more could be put to work, said Stephanie Fletcher, resident and coordinator for the house.
The Hendrick house opened in June 2006 after the Hendrick Auxiliary Volunteers allotted a $30,000 annual donation to cover operating costs.
Fletcher now hosts 30 children, ages six to 12, on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for tutoring and Christian study. She said six to seven ACU students volunteer each day and more could be put to work.
The program is not a day-care, Fletcher said. Instead, it is a venue for building relationships with the parents and children in the neighborhood.
“I have to know every parent before any kid comes by,” she said.
Fletcher said she would like to expand her ministry to reach out directly to parents and older youth.
“You build relationships first, and then you figure out what people need, and then you go from there,” Fletcher said.
And although the house has only been open for a few months, Fletcher said she has already noticed a difference in the neighborhood.
“I just feel like people are treating us like family, and looking out for us.”
Fletcher said she would like to see her neighbors helping each other as well.
“If they can start looking out for each other, start building relationships with each other, then the crime will go down,” Fletcher said.
The neighborhood also requires a lot of physical work, she said.
A group of volunteers is gathering anonymously to handle physical projects for her neighbors, Fletcher said.
This team of volunteers, which students are welcome to volunteer for, will enhance the neighborhood physically, Fletcher said.
ACU could potentially sponsor its own friendship house, SALT adviser Nancy Coburn said.
SALT and the VSLC seek to involve students, but with the rapid turnover rate among college students, establishing a Friendship House may be difficult, she said.
Friendship Houses are designed for a married couple to live in, which presents another challenge, Coburn said.
For now, SALT’s goal through Neighborhood Partners is to involve students in their neighborhoods.
“I do hope it will grow beyond SALT,” she said.