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Service Day Targets 5th Ward

Brady Scholars team with local high school students to help spruce up a neighborhood

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June 2, 2011 | by Amy Weiss
Professor Laurie Zoloth and freshman Amee Amin plant a tree in Evanston's Mason Park. Photo by Stephen Anzaldi

EVANSTON, Ill. --- On a sunny day in May, Evanston Township High School (ETHS) freshmen and their mentors in Northwestern’s Brady Scholars program participated in “Help A Neighbor Day,” a day of projects focused on Evanston’s 5th ward. 

The students planted trees donated by Home Depot throughout the ward, cleaned up parks and public spaces, organized the book wall and worked in the greenhouse at Boocoo Cultural Center and Cafe and sorted food and clothing donations at the Family Focus Center. 

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro, Evanston Alderwoman Dolores Holmes and leaders of local community organizations joined the effort.

The Brady Scholars program is a three-year academic and service program focused on ethics and civic life. The service day was the final event in the yearlong project to engage residents in their own community.

“We felt the 5th ward has great need, and the area is sometimes overlooked,” said senior Zahra Ohldin, the Brady Scholar responsible for coordinating the event. “The youth that we spoke to complained that there weren’t enough activities specific to the 5th ward or related to their interests.”

This year’s seniors, the inaugural class, wanted to focus on getting ordinary people, especially teenagers, involved in their community. After doing research and an extensive survey, they targeted the 5th ward. 

Northwestern freshmen are invited to apply to the program, and 16 students are chosen to participate sophomore through senior year. Sophomores take philosophy and civics seminars, examining what it means to be a good leader and good neighbor. They also focus on learning about Evanston, the makeup of the community and its challenges. Juniors in the program study abroad, examining how their host cities tackle issues and analyzing how such solutions can be applied to Evanston. Seniors design and work toward a service project.

Working with ETHS, the Brady Scholars identified and paired up with eight freshmen from the 5th ward. The scholars’ goals were to build leadership skills, expose the high school students to college life and encourage civic participation. 

The first two events in the program occurred earlier this spring. The ETHS students visited campus for a day, shadowing their Northwestern mentors as they went to class, ate in the dining halls, went to the gym and prepared for midterms. A few weeks later, they returned to campus for a program with speakers and breakout sessions designed for them.

The students conceived and executed the project entirely on their own, according to Laurie Zoloth, professor of medical ethics and humanities and Brady Scholars program director. “It was their idea, their initiative and it was a privilege to watch them,” she said. “The program is about coming into this city, learning how to lead and learning how to be great citizens.” 

The relationship between the Brady Scholars and their mentees will continue beyond the May 20 event, Zoloth explained. Each Brady Scholar has committed to working with his or her student throughout high school.

“The Brady Scholars are committed to being responsible for the students, giving them advice and support as they go through high school and prepare to go to college,” she said. “And the ETHS students will have their cell phone numbers.”

Citizens interested in volunteering, discussing issues or donating to the Brady Scholars can contact them at brady@northwestern.edu. 

Topics: People, Campus Life, Neighborhood