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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.”
BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit www.bentley.edu.
In the most recent U.S. News & World Report rankings of America’s Best Colleges 2017, Bentley University is ranked #3 among “Best Regional Universities - North.”