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$400K HUD grant supports BU-community outreach to center city neighborhoods

As soon as the contracts are signed Allison Alden will be looking to rent space in downtown Binghamton and to hire a director for the Center City Coordination (C3) Project that she hopes will focus myriad efforts to revitalize the area.

The contract, with a $399,997 grant check attached, will be coming from the federal Housing and Urban Development Department’s Community Outreach Partnership Centers program. In announcing the grant, U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Saugerties, said the grant “will better enable the University to use the exceptional levels of skill and knowledge of the faculty, staff and students for the benefit of the residents of Binghamton.”

As envisioned by Alden, who directs the Professional and Research Division of the School of Education and Human Development, the C3 project will use community teams to focus on activities within six broad areas: community organizing, community planning, education, health and well-being, job training and housing.

The project will cover downtown Binghamton from the Chenango River east to the Brandywine Highway, and north from the Susquehanna River to Bevier Street. The area includes most of the seventh and ninth council districts.

Two groups will steer the project: a Community Advisory Council made up of members of the designated neighborhoods and community groups and organizations; and a 12-person University Action Team drawn from faculty and professional ranks and supplemented by students. The University team is crossdivisional and includes people from SEHD, the Decker School of Nursing and Harpur College of Arts and Sciences.

“This is really neighborhood based,” Alden said. “The sense of direction comes from people who live there and work there.”

Once the staff is hired and the community council is recruited, one of the first tasks, said Alden, will be to gain a consensus from residents on which problems they want to tackle first. “This is resident driven,” she said. Each of the six task committees will have its own chair drawn from the community.

The campus team and the advisory team’s role will be to link neighborhood teams, working with students, to available resources within the community. The project lists more than 20 partners who supported the grant application. Some of the major partners include the City of Binghamton, United Way, the Binghamton City School District, the YWCA, Broome County Employment and Training, the county Department of Social Services and Health, the Integrated County Planning Team, Fairview Recovery Services, the Urban League, Catholic Charities, Head Start and Opportunities for Broome.

Alden sees the neighborhood office and staff presence in the community as vital. “We’ve had many many programs and students working in areas of the city, but it’s hard to focus on one neighborhood without having a physical presence there,” she said.

One of the ways to extend the program’s presence in the neighborhoods will be to have students work directly with the residents. Students from the masters in social work program that will begin in September 2004 will be among those assigned to the project as part of their practicum. Their role, Alden said, will not be to offer therapy, but direction and structure using a model that stresses neighborhood empowerment and self-investment.

This is the second time the grant proposal was submitted for funding. The first time it was rejected and Alden used the lessons learned to improve the model and to seek out additional partners. “This thing is a huge undertaking,” she said.

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