Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Neighbors Project redefines focus

Students who want to help those in need may wonder how much difference one person can make. At GW, the Neighbors Project, a group that ministers its time and love to people in need, can provide an answer to this question.

In past years, the program has been a part of AmeriCorps, a government-funded service organization. The AmeriCorps funding for the Neighbors Project was cut this year due to a reprioritization of funding at AmeriCorps, said Stacy Blumenthal, newly appointed director of the Neighbors Project.

Despite the recent cutback, the organization has not suffered, she said, because the Neighbors Project has always maintained a diverse funding base ranging from corporate grants to financial support from the University, Blumenthal said.

The withdrawal of AmeriCorps funding allows the program to do more direct fundraising and get more involved with spiritual issues in the community, she said.

Before, federal funding conditions prohibited the Neighbors Project from associating with spiritual issues because of the concept of separation of church and state, she said.

Neighbors Project goals for the year include strengthening the base of volunteers and increasing community awareness of programs and the purpose they serve, participant Dan Sweet said.

A new program in the field of community development, the Shaw Eco-Village, was formed this year to make the community aware of environmental issues. The program also aims to help people realize they can make an impact on the environment despite their inner-city location, member Mikey Akin said.

The Neighbors Project is divided into four areas of service – education, community development, senior services and health – which work exclusively in the historically African-American Shaw community near Howard University. There are thirteen community service projects in that area.

Volunteer opportunities in education range from infant care to tutoring high school students. Community development programs include projects such as neighborhood cleanups. Senior services volunteers help the elderly in the District learn about free programs designed to help them and provide an outreach program that connects low-income seniors to existing services. The health area consists of free clinics for non-emergency problems and free medical advice.

Each of these areas of service are directed by a trained Neighbors Project corps member who recruits volunteers.

The fourteen corps members are GW students who have undergone weeks of training and interviewing to attain their positions.

Sweet said corps members commit themselves to 900 hours of community service for one academic year in their area of service.

Along with interviews, potential members must list their areas of talent, expertise and interest. A selection committee decides where a member will best fit.

Akin said that Neighbors Project corps members are given a stipend to cover living expenses, which is equivalent to about six dollars an hour. Upon completion of 900 hours of service, corps member are given a scholarship of about $2,300 to use toward the next semester’s tuition, he said.

The monetary rewards, however, are not the reason corps members participate in the Neighbors Project, said Sweet, who participates in the Violence Prevention Service Learning Program at Seaton Elementary on Rhode Island Avenue in the Shaw neighborhood.

I have found a real sense of purpose by volunteering, he said. The Neighbors Project is a way to improve the community and I think that this dedication will help me build the Shaw community; which is an amazing place. I feel privileged to help in the community.

Sweet said he discovered a love for working with children during his involvement with the Neighbors Project.

Sweet said his passion was so great for the work he had done and the people he influenced, that he became a corps member so his presence could be made even stronger.

Akin said he believes that every participant has his or her own reason for volunteering.

For me personally, it was a value instilled by my mother, he said. She always, even in times when our family faced hardship, emphasized the importance of helping others.

Akin also believes in returning the proverbial favors the world has granted him.

During our time of need, people always stepped up to help us, he said. I have always remembered this and feel it is my civic duty to give back.

Another face of the organization is its collaboration with Howard University. This links first-hand experience of Howard students that reside near the Shaw area with the hands-on participation of residents from surrounding areas.

This year, however, Howard will be focusing on a new program entitled Digital Divide that helps bring technology to the community. Blumenthal said that as a result, the two schools will not be working as closely as in recent years.

There are about 1,000 GW students who are under the guidance of the fourteen corps members. According to Blumenthal, these volunteers are incredible people out to take on the world.

Nobody can do everything, but everybody can do something, Akin said.

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