Johns Hopkins Gazette: April 1, 1996

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

     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

     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

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