Univ. Communications – It is the rare student who has observed a City Hall or school board meeting, been on a police ride-along in Rochester’s “Crescent,” volunteered at the 19th Ward Square Fair, or dedicated their time to critically discussing urban issues affecting the Rochester community. This summer, as part of the Urban Fellows Program coordinated by the Rochester Center for Community Leadership, 15 Rochester students will have the opportunity to do all this, and more.
“The Urban Fellows is a 10 week fellowship that places students in community organizations with the goal of not only educating them about urban issues but also figuring out ways that they can be agents of change,” said Jenna Dell, assistant director of the RCCL and director of the Urban Fellows Program.
With fellowships in area non-profits and civic organizations focused on urban education, crime and justice, access to food, housing, and community arts in addition to weekly seminar discussions, students will develop an understanding of the city of Rochester that goes beyond abstract discussion. Junior Jonathan Johnson, a political science and anthropology major and current Urban Fellow, looks forward to the opportunity to actively engage with the issues covered in the program.
“There is a vast difference between reading about an adventure in a book and actually going on the adventure. The Urban Fellows Program supplements the theoretical knowledge I have, and that drive, with the frustrations and the challenges of going into a community and learning hands-on,” said Johnson.
This year’s Urban Fellows are placed in a variety of organizations in Rochester: Writers and Books, the Legal Aid Society of Rochester, the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York, the Southeast Neighborhood Service Center, and Flower City Habitat for Humanity, to name a few. Johnson will spend his summer at Community Place, an organization that provides social services and programming for the Northeast quadrant of Rochester.
“My focus is on youth ages two to 10 in conjunction with their parents through the SEEDS program (Strengthening, Eating and Exercising Daily Successfully). We try and promote activities that encourage families to work together and to learn about nutrition, education, and health in a holistic way,” said Johnson. Throughout the fellowship, Johnson will work with Community Place planning, organizing, and assisting with youth development programs.
“We sponsor programs like Urban Farming where community members can receive free fruits and vegetables as well as learn to grow their own. We also sponsor other initiatives from mountain biking programs to walking clubs to free cooking classes,” said Johnson.
Junior Jordan Shapiro, a history and international relations major, will complete her Urban Fellowship with the Genesee Land Trust and Project Hope.
“I am very interested in sustainability as well as land preservation and protecting the earth, so I have been interested in a lot of the projects the Genesee Land Trust is doing,” said Shapiro.
During her fellowship, Shapiro will be specifically working to encourage citizen use of a park on the corner of Clifford Avenue and Conkey Avenue, built by Project Hope.
“We’re trying to boost the neighborhood and get people to feel like the park is really theirs,” said Shapiro. “There’s going to be a camp with a landscape apprentice program, as well as an after school program for kids in the neighborhood.”
Shapiro hopes the Urban Fellows program will prepare her for a potential career in civil rights law.
“I think the Urban Fellows Program is really beneficial for students because it gives you the opportunity to be forced out of your comfort zone. One of the things that I hope to improve is my ability to communicate with all different types of people,” said Shapiro.
As director of the Urban Fellows program, Dell strives to build a lasting connection between students and the city of Rochester.
“The broader goal is to have students continue being involved with their communities in some way,” said Dell. “We were intentional this year in recruiting underclassmen for Urban Fellows in the hope that this would be a formative experience for them and they would continue it throughout their college career.”
Now several weeks into the program, this year’s Urban Fellows are beginning to appreciate the unique opportunity they will have this summer.
“At the University of Rochester, we are a sphere of very intellectual, very driven, and very motivated individuals who have a variety of interests. It can be very challenging when you’re situated at the University to connect with the community. The Urban Fellows program is not only necessary, but essential to actually developing a relationship between the University and the Rochester community, as well as helping students understand that relationship and why it is so important,” said Johnson.
Article written by Erica Messner ’12(T5), an intern in University Communications. Messner, who majored in political science and music, was a member of the Urban Fellows Class of 2010 and also served as an Election Fellow, also a RCCL program.
Photo: Urban Fellows Jonathan Johnson, a University of Rochester student, and Alaura Daniels, a Nazareth College student, participate in a discussion during an Urban Housing seminar at the Charles Settlement House in Northwest Rochester. Photo courtesy of Erica Messner.