Service-Learning Students Help Transform Empty Building into Resource Full of Possibility
Comfort. Belief. Home. Safety. Encouragement. These powerful words speak to the life-changing potential of a vacant building now being transformed into an innovative community center within Waltham’s largest housing development.
In one of the biggest initiatives the Bentley Service-Learning Center (BSLC) has tackled, Prospect Hill Terrace housing development will become the new home for a community center that will help the BSLC to continue to set national standards for town-gown partnerships. Programs at the new community center will range from afterschool activities to tutoring and computer programming to fitness and health to résumé writing and job skill training.
The 5,000-square-foot undertaking calls for a group effort. Bentley has partnered with Brandeis University, the residents of Prospect Hill, and the City of Waltham, which provided a $100,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).
“Our goal is to establish an innovative national model for civic engagement, encouraging universities to partner with each other, with local municipalities, and with local and national agencies to create empowering and impactful programming for social change,” says BSLC Director Jonathan White.
The initiative brought NFL player and Bentley alum Mackenzy Bernadeau ’08 back to his roots. A former Prospect Hill resident, he recognizes how the center will help level the playing field for low-income children.
When he visited his former home, he said to children: “This is going to be your spot; you’re going to run this center.”
Part of the plans include a brand new playground, donated by national nonprofit KaBOOM! At a special “Design Day” event on Tuesday, July 30, children will put crayon to paper to draw their “dream play space.” Their creative visions will be considered for the final design, slated for construction on September 17.
Programming at the new community center will indeed depend on what residents want to see.
A tenant’s association will work closely with Bentley and Brandeis team members to help piece together the community center’s programming puzzle. To tap student talent, Bentley is offering fourth-credit service-learning courses connected to Prospect Hill initiatives.
The entire project has been a collaborative effort. Students in Bentley professor Mike Goldberg’s Information Design and Corporate Communication course designed a brochure, while Associate Professor of English and Media Studies Casey Hayward’s class produced a video. Bentley faculty member Joan Atlas wrote the grant for CDGB while Bentley senior Aaron Pinet developed the business plan.
Proven model for change
BSLC currently runs similar programs at Waltham’s Chesterbrook Gardens (opened 15 years ago) and Dana Court (launched last year).
“What began as a small computer center now provides homework assistance, academic enrichment, arts and crafts activities, indoor and outdoor games, and healthy snacks,” explains Jeannette MacInnes, senior associate director of BSLC. “Both locations have been very successful but Prospect Hill will take this model to new heights with plans for innovative programming such as collaborative social entrepreneurship projects”
Waltham Police Officer June Conway sees the difference that these programs make. “Crime and vandalism at Chesterbrook have gone down, and parents know each other. Ten years ago when I asked kids what they wanted to do in life, many said they didn’t know. Today, most of them talk about going to college. They’re invested.”
Residents aren’t the only ones who care; the list of community supporters for the Prospect Hill initiative continues to grow. Among them: the sheriff’s department, who provided manpower for the initial building cleanout; the local carpenters union, who built computer stations; and Comcast, whose workers installed wiring for Internet access and donated computers.
Says Pinet, “As Bentley students, we know civic engagement is an integral part of our college experience because not only are we getting our hands dirty helping to build an impactful community center, but we are integrating important lessons we learn from the local community into our work in the classroom.”