Neighborhood Collaborations

Hill House Dinner

Hill House Dinner

By: Aurelia Spaulding
On any given day, recent Western Kentucky University graduate Greg Capillo will help his neighbor, Dave, carry bags inside or talk to him while he works out in the yard. They talk about life, as well as the community in which they live—the community around East 11th and 12th Streets in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Capillo, along with three other students, moved into the house at 741 East 11th Street with the purpose of using their academics and interests to develop the community around them. However, as a result, they became a part of the community, a “common denominator” amongst the residents Capillo says. Since everybody in the area knows them, they can build and create a public space.

The public space now known as the Hill House used to be home to drug trafficking and domestic violence until Bob Basham purchased the house and made renovations a few years ago. He wanted the home to be used to better the community and brought the idea of a community engagement house to the WKU ALIVE Center for Community Partnerships.

WKU graduate students Phuong Vu and Thang Le, both from Hanoi, Vietnam, and Senior Joey Coe lived alongside Capillo in the Hill House during the 2009-2010 academic year.

The Hill House students communicate one-on-one to develop relationships with their neighbors, as well as host Sunday dinner at their home each week to share stories and give thanks. “There are people who would like to see the life of the community be different, and they have just as much stake in it as us,” Capillo said.

Rsuming this fall, the Hill House project will serve as an interdisciplinary graduate assistantship program that allows graduate students to live and work out of Hill House, applying their coursework to real life community development opportunities.

Embarking on year two, Hill House residents will build upon the infrastructure developed by year one residents, which most importantly, in a previous student resident’s opinion, is grounded in trust and relationship-building with neighboring students and community residents. Year one students laid the groundwork for future community development efforts.

During the first year, the Hill House students conducted asset-based assessments of the community they were becoming a part of through conversation and valuable interaction. They listened to neighbors and developed specific project ideas, while drawing on their different academic areas of expertise to address neighborhood issues and concerns. They served as connectors between the community’s assets and residents’ needs.

As year one students wrap up their year and year two students prepare for the year ahead, Hill House residents and coordinators will take part in a camping retreat scheduled to orient the students, work on teambuilding activities, and develop timelines for the projects that lie ahead. Thanks to financial support provided by the WKU Graduate Studies office and alternately by the Deans of WKU’s six colleges, four new graduate students will have the opportunity to start anew in the fall of 2010.

Hill House residents beginning in the fall come from Potter College’s Departments of Communication and Folk Studies, College of Education’s Department of Student Affairs, and College of Health & Human Services Department of Public Health. Year two students this fall will continue to develop the Neighborhood Network, an email and web-based neighborhood communication tool, as well as complete a neighborhood weatherization project initiated by previous Hill House residents in coordination with local homeowners, Broadway United Methodist Church’s Craftsmen for Christ, and Community Action of Southern Kentucky. Year two students will also continue to report program activities through blogging at cehouse.blogspot.com.

As new Hill House residents connect with neighbors, they will utilize their academic graduate programs of study to develop new projects and programs that address neighborhood perceived issues and challenges. Ideally, such projects will be the cornerstone of their graduate research and theses projects. As described by WKU Institute for Citizenship & Social Responsibility’s Program Coordinator, Terry Shoemaker, “Hill House works against the idea that students are simply citizens in deferral; rather it creates a framework for students to be presently active as practicing citizens.”

The Hill House submerses students in a reallife field placement that allows them to develop their civic agency through teambuilding, problem-solving, and critical thinking opportunities alongside active community members. Through vital campus and community partnerships, students learn the practical value of their academic training to strengthen communities locally and beyond.

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