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Duquesne Community Members Empower Local Residents through Hazelwood Partnership

For nearly three years, a growing cohort of Duquesne faculty and students have been quietly living out the University mission in their work to empower local residents to revitalize their community.

Hazelwood, once home to Pittsburgh's last operating steel mill, has witnessed the decline of the steel industry and its jobs, business closings, residents leaving and, most recently, shuttered schools. Through the Hazelwood Partnership, Duquesne and community stakeholders have forged a collaborative relationship to promote revitalization in Hazelwood. Projects include service-learning classes that often meet on site and are designed to benefit the neighborhood, and the Fusion Program, an academic after-school endeavor that aims to enhance the learning environment for children and families.

Dr. Dave Somers, the Anna Rangos Rizakus Endowed Chair in Health Sciences and Ethics"Much of the unity within the Hazelwood community revolved around the education of its children, with deep parental involvement in after-school programs," explained Dr. Dave Somers, the Anna Rangos Rizakus Endowed Chair in Health Sciences and Ethics, who was instrumental in developing the Hazelwood Partnership on Duquesne's behalf and acts as the group's facilitator. "When the schools closed there, that centralized focus for the community weakened considerably. Our students who have been involved in service-learning classes and projects within Hazelwood have been introduced to this concept first hand."

The different projects and classes that have been offered have provided a wonderful benefit to the residents there," Somers said. "And the interactions with the people of Hazelwood have helped our students, faculty and staff to more deeply understand the complexity of a community experiencing economic disadvantage."

Coordinated through the School of Education, the Fusion Program offers academic interventions, parental support, school and family collaboration, and social activities for the neighborhood's children and families. It was developed by Hazelwood's Center of Life, a faith-based organization that works to provide families and youth with the life skills, education, training and resources to be strong and make their communities strong. Other partners in the Fusion Program include Pittsburgh Public Schools and Hazelwood Presbyterian Church.

Fusion offers a Literacy Boot Camp three nights a week at the Hazelwood branch of the Carnegie Library, where students from across Duquesne's curriculum provide one-on-one tutoring as well as academic help tailored to each child. Additionally, Pittsburgh Public School teachers and administrators conduct workshops to help engage parents in their children's school and to address topics such as academics and college and vocational preparation."My kids were making Cs in school. Now, they're on the honor roll," said Errica Davis, whose two children regularly attend the Fusion Program. "They love coming to the program, and I love that Duquesne is doing this."

As Fusion coordinator, Dr. Temple S. Lovelace, assistant professor of education, recognizes the important void that the program can fill in a community where children must travel to other neighborhoods to attend school.

"The Fusion Program is critical in bringing back the link between Hazelwood and the Pittsburgh Public School district," said Lovelace. "Fusion seeks to support Hazelwood youth in providing a forum for academic success, and it supports Hazelwood parents by giving them the tools to change the academic trajectory of their children.

"Duquesne students from service-learning courses in the School of Education and the McAnulty College of Liberal Arts also have been participating in class projects designed to benefit Hazelwood through the partnership.

After spending time in the community, and interviewing residents and City Council representatives, students taking Social Justice in Educational Settings will present a proposal in December in Hazelwood offering ideas for developing empty school buildings and run-down neighborhood parks. Tyler Rodgers, a sophomore education/English major, described the experience as eye-opening.

"There is too much for them to do by themselves," explained Rodgers, who was concerned at first that they might question his and his fellow students' abilities to understand the situation because they come from different backgrounds. "...I may just be a college student, but someone has to do something. The experience overall has taken me out of my bubble."

Dr. Erik Garrett is director of the Exploring Intercultural Communication course, through which students have been interviewing Hazelwood residents at the Center of Life and recording their oral histories during the past three semesters."

Rather than doing intercultural communication in terms of a survey of cultures around the world, we're taking students through actual practices of intercultural communication through the context of the City of Pittsburgh and the unique urban environment that we have here," said Garrett, an assistant professor of communication.

The interviews have been transcribed and will be presented to the Hazelwood community for archival purposes.

While the Hazelwood Partnership is still fairly new, it has already yielded positive results, according to Tim Smith, executive director of the Center of Life and pastor of the Keystone Church of Hazelwood.

"Overall, I see the Hazelwood Partnership as a step in the right direction and one that can serve as a model for other underserved communities to follow as they attempt to work to revitalize their own communities," said Smith."

As both a stakeholder in the partnership and a member of the Hazelwood community, I see this as a relationship that is committed to going the distance."

Duquesne University

Founded in 1878, Duquesne is consistently ranked among the nation's top Catholic universities for its award-winning faculty and tradition of academic excellence. Duquesne, a campus of nearly 9,500 graduate and undergraduate students, has been nationally recognized for its academic programs, community service and commitment to sustainability. Follow Duquesne University on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.