Lori Senese and Emily White of Frostburg State University's Community Outreach Partnership Center recently attended two conferences and gave presentations on COPC initiatives. COPC is funded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and is designed to establish a link between the University and the surrounding communities of Cumberland and Frostburg.
Senese, program director of the Center, attended the National COPC Conference in New Orleans, where she presented on a panel about capacity building.
"It is important for HUD. They want to develop capacity so people can do things on their own," Senese says.
Capacity building is designed to help neighborhood associations get started and to learn different aspects of being their own entities. COPC has developed a series of training sessions, which address topics for neighborhood associations including writing mission statements, establishing bylaws and 501(c) 3 status, volunteer recruitment and grant proposal basics. Different groups need different things since they are at various stages of development. Some need to know how to get started, while others, which are firmly established, need assistance with applying for non-profit status.
"We have to keep evolving as the needs of our neighborhoods change," says Senese about the growing number of requests for Web development assistance and graphic design.
The COPC program administrators try to match the resources at FSU to those needs. Students and faculty in the mass communications, art, social work and education departments have all provided services for the community. The community benefits from the students, who in turn learn what it is like to work for a client.
"We interact on a lot of levels," Senese says of the many types of service the students and faculty have provided for the underserved communities. FSU students and faculty have attended neighborhood meetings, produced videos about the community, listened to residents' ideas of community vision and helped develop Web sites for the neighborhood associations.
The interaction has a positive effect for both parties involved. The student perceptions of the community change as they feel a part of it, and the interaction "ultimately helps the way the university is thought of by the community," Senese says.
Emily White, community coordinator of COPC, attended the Association of American Geographers annual conference in Philadelphia. She gave a poster presentation, which detailed the history of the Chapel Hill community in Cumberland. Her paper, "Chapel Hill West Neighborhood Association: A Changing Community," described the history of the community from its inception to today.
The modern community has become interested in restoring its history, and it is doing so through restoration projects. The neighborhood wants to base its modern identity on its historical identity, so COPC is helping the neighborhood association to put together a working history of the area. The community is restoring building facades and sidewalks to their original appearance, as well as revitalizing its playgrounds.
Because Chapel Hill is deemed a low-income area, the neighborhood association has received over $100,000 in grant money. The money has been used to help the restoration projects. If a family qualifies for a façade grant, the association will give them $2,000 to improve the outside appearance of their home.
"The program allows residents to have beautiful houses," White says.
Chapel Hill also has a home-ownership program that allows families to move into the neighborhood and purchase a home. The Chapel Hill Neighborhood Association, which has not yet achieved non-profit status, is working with the non-profit group the Cumberland Neighborhood Housing Authority to make sure that eligible people receive grants from the city of Cumberland. The city is giving qualified families $3,000 towards the down payment of a house if the family moves in and agrees to live there for at least five years. This program is increasing home ownership.
At the conference, White talked to a number of people who are interested in starting a similar type of program in their own neighborhoods.
"Chapel Hill is trying to maintain its character, which includes the low-income element," White says.
For more information on COPC, call Senese at 301-687-7599 or White at 301-687-4210.