The Way I See It: Lending a Helping Hand in Charles Village Parag Nene ---------------------------- Special to The Gazette As Hopkins undergraduates, we find ourselves in the rather awkward position of knowing that we will live in the Homewood neighborhood for several years, but we may not necessarily be settling down in Charles Village after graduation. For this reason, very few of us make a substantial commitment to involve ourselves in the maintenance of our residential community. At first glance, the densely compacted and urban demography of Charles Village seems to lend itself to intimate contact with its residents. Some of us may make a tentative attempt at exploring the locale, but unfortunately, not enough of us get to know our neighbors or help them with their community enrichment projects. However, involvement in our community can ensure that although our stay may be transient, our contribution to the neighborhood can be long-lasting. Although it's often difficult to track down community leaders and organizations to find out how we might help, the effort would be worth it, for them and for us. Two of the community's primary concerns are how to keep the streets of Charles Village safe--especially after dark--and how best to provide for the welfare of the neighborhood kids. Hopkins students are particularly qualified to be good neighbors in both areas by supporting ongoing initiatives organized by the existing community action groups. The 40-year-old Charles Village Civic Association was a relatively passive organization until the spring of 1994, when local businessmen and residents noted an alarming increase in crime and urban ills seeping into Charles Village. The decline in safety had exerted a mutually deleterious effect on neighborhood businesses. A referendum passed last year established the Charles Village Community Benefits District, which raised the community's property tax to allow the CVCBD to hire their own security force. This move complemented efforts already under way by the non-profit Greater Homewood Community Corporation and other civic-minded groups. GHCC was recently instrumental in garnering free cellular telephones--linked to 911 operators--for use by the Neighborhood Walkers, a group of residents who, in January 1991, began walking their neighborhood streets at night in response to a string of bold and persistent burglaries. The news that a community walkers group had been formed rapidly spread by word of mouth, and soon residents from south Charles Village to Abell Street to University Parkway volunteered to patrol the streets at night. Hopkins students have rarely been among them. "Of the 60 or so people who currently patrol, very few are students, and none are undergraduates. It would be wonderful to see them involved," said Sheila Rees, who coordinates the Neighborhood Walkers. And we should be involved. In an effort to encourage more undergraduate participation in the Charles Village community, the Student Council Community Affairs Committee has placed two items at the top of its agenda. The first is the establishment of the Hopkins Walkers program to assist the neighborhood walkers. The Hopkins program is set up so that large campus organizations, such as fraternities and service groups, would sign up to help patrol the neighborhood for a week, and internally assign five people for every night of the week. This will not only increase community presence and safety, but also provide Hopkins students with the opportunity to meet their neighbors. And there may be no more important neighbors to meet, and interact with, than the neighborhood children. In another Community Affairs Committee initiative, we hope to involve Hopkins students--varsity athletes and recreational players alike--in the Neighborhood Recreation League. The children are certainly in need of coaching and pointers from people whom they can look up to. The program does not require an inordinate amount of an undergraduate's time, only a commitment to get involved. I urge every Hopkins student to participate in these outreach programs, or even better, to extend this interest into forming a new organization, as did 1994 grad Matt Boulay when he established the Safe and Smart Center on Greenmount Avenue just north of 33rd Street. Volunteer work can prove to be a tremendously beneficial experience, which not only enriches the community but may leave a lasting impression on the volunteer. It can instill a sense of understanding and sympathy for the impoverished as well as the humility to acknowledge that we are indeed fortunate to be in a position to give rather than receive. Parag Nene is a senior majoring in chemistry and chairman of the Community Affairs Committee of the Undergraduate Student Council.
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