“We believe that America’s Land Grant Universities are uniquely positioned to address multiple challenges to wellbeing by partnering with our communities in a broad, coordinated, interdisciplinary effort that utilizes student and faculty expertise to lift struggling areas of our country”.
As of 2012, 15.9 percent of Americans (or 48.8 million) are in poverty.1 Poverty and lack of resources in communities greatly affect poor and middle class individuals in both rural and urban environments. Some effects of poverty include: substandard conditions in housing, nutrition, childcare, access to health care, safety, and access to quality education. Poorer children and teens are also at greater risk for many negative outcomes such as poor academic achievement, school dropout, abuse and neglect, behavioral and socioemotional problems, physical health problems, and developmental delays2. Empowering communities to aid their members through guidance and support from local universities is one way to keep people out of the river of poverty.
The White House has acknowledged the challenges of impoverished communities by creating the Promise Zones program, an initiative to “create a better bargain for the middle-class by partnering with local communities and businesses to create jobs, increase economic security, expand educational opportunities, increase access to quality, affordable housing and improve public safety.”3 This grassroots approach empowers communities to raise quality of life overall; however, this program will only reach 20 communities across the United States in the next several years.
What We Can Do
We believe that America’s Land Grant Universities are uniquely positioned to continue addressing this challenge by partnering with our communities in a broad, coordinated, interdisciplinary effort that utilizes student and faculty expertise to lift struggling areas of our country. While many universities are engaged in efforts that address specific, narrow problems, Building Resilient Communities (BRC) is a unique team of faculty and students from a wide range of disciplines with the expertise to combat these problems. These experts have forged into a powerful interdisciplinary team, and are engaged in a pilot project that is developing interventions within a small low-income community in Oklahoma.
The Building Resilient Communities (BRC) research and service project brings comprehensive University resources to a disadvantaged school district, which serves three small communities. These communities struggle with many issues including poverty, health disparities, and food insecurity. This community partnership allows university experts to guide and support initiatives named by community members. This community partnership will serve as a pilot project that can be duplicated in other disadvantaged communities in Oklahoma and beyond. Our interdisciplinary team includes agricultural education, educational leadership, counseling psychology, health promotion, human sciences, and sociology. Our process allows balance between responsiveness to community and school needs and data collection initiatives.
A year-long needs assessment was conducted to identify priorities and promote buy-in from both leaders and individuals in the community. Intervention development was guided by proven community models such as Harlem Children’s Zone4, Aunt Martha’s5, and LIFT, Inc6. Other university/community partnership models are also being consulted, including, the University of Pennsylvania (The Barbara and Edward Netter Center for Community Partnerships)7 and Michigan State University (The Center for Community and Economic Development)8.
We have begun a multi-prong effort to address needs in the community including:
- Applying for and receiving funds to assist the school in stocking the greenhouse and the creation of raised beds. These efforts will allow more fresh fruits and vegetables to be served in their cafeteria and given away to the community.
- Placing master's level community counseling students to increase mental health and career services in the school
- Starting a parent-teacher taskforce that modified a research based parent/school involvement program to fit their school. This program was implemented school wide. This group also hosts monthly events to create a safe place for families to gether and interact.
- We are currently in the process of creating an afterschool program that will fill gaps in the children’s education that come from poor funding. This program will also include educational aspects for parents.
Our main purpose is to improve the lives of the individuals in our partner community through application of research and outreach. We recognize that we can accomplish more as an interdisciplinary team than an individuals trapped in our departmental silos. We are not raising the wellbeing of nearby communities but also providing stimulating experiences to our faculty and students that will hopefully inspire them to continue doing work and research that serves others. We have plans to create the sustainability of this program with service learning experiences integrated within classrooms.