Friday, August 20, 2010

Social work students and faculty help foster community in Reynoldstown

Reynoldstown, a historically working-class African-American neighborhood, has recently seen demographic changes in race and income, and some people don’t know their neighbors as well as they used to.

Social work faculty and students are helping to bring the neighborhood together to build community and strengthen ties through a six-week training program this spring that had neighbors starting the process by simply talking to one another.

The students, faculty and community residents dedicated an art project as part of the efforts on Aug. 14, celebrating the training program and its results. The GSU School of Social work partnered with Resources for Residents and Communities in the project.

Mary Ohmer, assistant professor of social work, said the Reynoldstown project was inspired by a similar successful GSU six-week training program in Thomasville Heights that helped to build relationships between neighbors.

“We wanted to create a gathering place to show that if you do this, you can make your community a better place to live,” Ohmer said.

The program, aimed at both youth and adults, included sessions on how to build relationships with neighbors and respect, as well as communication and conflict resolution skills.

Erich Harvey, a resident of Reynoldstown, said the program helped to open his eyes about needs in the area, as well as the possibilities of change.

“The most important thing that I saw was there were people who cared about me and cared about my well being,” Harvey said.

Young Hughley, CEO for Resources for Residents and Communities, said the program helped to bridge the divides between races and ages.

“The unique thing about this project was that it helped to deal with perceptions that the different groups had, and enabled them to sit down and talk with one another,” Hughley said. “It helped them to realize that they have more in common than they thought they did.

“They discovered that they liked each other, and that they were all a member of a community from one neighborhood,” he added.

The effort’s art project reshaped a once unused, vacant area of land bordering the CSX rail yards on Wylie Street between Selman and Kenyon Streets, allowing residents to work together to create a piece of public art, a platform that helps to tell stories about the neighborhood.

GSU alumna Emma Adair, who earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture this year, helped spearhead the creation of “Memory Map,” a stage where residents painted tiles and created a map of the area, featuring icons that indicated stories that happened in different parts of the neighborhood.

“I wanted to work on this project because I like working on projects that involve a bunch of different, diverse people,” Adair said. “I hope that we keep adding onto it.”

The next phase of the art project includes the installation this fall of sculptures of standing figures with solar-powered lights, said Adair, who is now pursuing her master’s degree in Pennsylvania.

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