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CSC engages South Bend youth

Emma Borne | Monday, October 14, 2013

Three years ago, Naomi Penney, former president of the Neighborhood Research Corporation (NRC) in South Bend, developed an idea that hopefully would engage youths in community building and neighborhood development.

Her idea has since come to life in the form of the Engaging Youths, Engaging Neighborhoods Project (EYEN), which allows middle school and high school students to examine their neighborhoods through the lens of photography.

The NRC collaborated with Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns to create the project, specifically working with Maria McKenna, assistant professional specialist with Notre Dame’s Institute for Educational Initiatives; Stuart Greene, English professor and fellow with the Institute for Educational Initiatives and Kevin Burke, assistant professional specialist with the Alliance for Catholic Education.

“The goals were twofold: one, to have youth voices heard in community planning and development and two, to engender a sense of agency in youth that would sustain them into adulthood,” McKenna said.

 The program particularly seeks to empower children from low-income families and youth of color in the South Bend area, Burke said.  “One of the ways we think about empowering youth was, what if we asked them to tell us a story of their neighborhoods in photos?” Burke said. “What would you change and what do you think is a real asset to the community?”  

McKenna said EYEN has worked with three groups of young people in the past two years.

“Each of the three groups … have presented a unique photo exhibit of their work and also prepared proposals for community change projects in their various neighborhoods,” McKenna said.

Their second project was in collaboration with the Robinson Community Learning Center, a youth center in South Bend frequented by many Notre Dame student volunteers.

McKenna, Greene and Burke said youths think about their neighborhoods in a broader sense than do adults, and have thus greatly informed both the project and the neighborhoods with their research and experience.

“They see things that adults might not see,” Greene said. “They see assets in parks and safe spaces, even the homeless center, that adults might not see because those are places that draw people together.”

Greene saidTthe leaders of the project listened to the children when they suggested something new for the future of EYEN.

“[For the next project] we didn’t take on another neighborhood,” Greene said. “We took on youth from these [past] projects and created a youth leadership group … that was a brainchild of this one student in the third project.”

According to the Center for Social Concerns website, the Youth Council and Leadership Summit took place this past Augustt expandind the already existing goals of the EYEN.

“The idea is to bring youth together … to get kids to think about what they bring, what are their assets and how can they use their collective assets … to see the strengths of the city of South Bend but also then look to where we could improve things,” Greene said.

When asked about the future of the project, Greene said the leaders want to see EYEN become self-sustaining.

“We would like youth to come to the point now that as they become older, they’ll be in the position to mentor young people, and that will be a really nice perpetuating cycle of youth working with youth to change the city and have a strong enough voice,” Greene said.

For those who find the EYEN intriguing, Greene and McKenna plan to teach a Community Based Learning class in the spring of 2014 that will work with the youths of this project.

Contact Emma Bone at [email protected]