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'Know Your Neighbors' aims to integrate students with communities surrounding Case Western Reserve University

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Posted at 2:41 PM, Feb 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-05 18:27:04-05

CLEVELAND — Case Western Reserve University is ranked among the nation’s leading research universities. Some students credit a series of diverse courses and classmates for the distinction. Even so, some students said something important is lacking in the learning experience.

There’s a bridge near campus that divides the university from nearby neighborhoods.

“My freshman orientation, I was told, ‘don’t go past this bridge,” said student Samantha Kelts.

“Students are told not to go under the bridge on Euclid Avenue,” said recent graduate Delaney Jones. ” Students are not really integrated with the communities surrounding the campus. Some of them hold negative stereotypes about the communities around campus. Glenville, Hough, Fairfax, the city of East Cleveland; they might see those areas as kinda solely being defined by poverty and crime.”

Jones said she grew exhausted with the stereotypes, so she created an outreach program called Know Your Neighbors.

“We will create an opportunity for you to actually break down these barriers in your communities,” said Jones. “Students then often see the neighbors as places that need to be helped or fixed by them, rather than neighbors and people communities with so many assets, so many great restaurants, art and culture.”

The plan started around the time George Floyd protests began. COVID-19 made it difficult to have face-to-face interactions with neighbors near the university’s campus, but regular Zoom calls helped facilitate the organization’s intentions.

Gwendolyn Garth found the outreach refreshing.

“I grew up in Glenville,” said neighbor Garth. “When we look at all monumental movements that have made change in the country, it started when the youth participated. They are there doing something, no matter how small.”

Dozens of students have signed up to participate in Know Your Neighbors, and they are just as appreciative as the neighbors they have met.

“This has been a learning and growing experience for me as well, yeah,” said student Dominic Oddo.

“There is so much the community around us has to offer, and so much we can learn from other people,” said Kelts.

To participate in Know Your Neighbors, you can email the organization at knowyourneighborscwru@gmail.com

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.