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Positive Change from a Simple Idea

Peter Lee, professor in the School of Social Work, and Jennifer Goto, Minister at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church celebrate Earth Day in O’Donnell’s Park. Photo Credit: Jeanette Ramos.

Jennifer Goto, the minister of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, sat in monthly neighborhood meetings, and heard it again and again. O’Donnell’s Park was not a safe place to be. Despite its central location within the South University Neighborhood just a block from SJSU, parents articulated that the presence of squatters and drug users meant they did not feel comfortable bringing their children there.

That’s when Jennifer began to think, “how can we work to eliminate all the crime and things that make this park unsafe? What if instead of removing the negative things, we inject something really positive into the park?” Jennifer mused that the presence of many residents in the park might even be a catalyst for positive change: “If it does not feel safe on our own, will it feel safe with ten families?”

Armed with this “injecting positivity” idea, Jennifer attended last year’s Silicon Valley Neighborhood Development Training Conference. SVNDTC is a day-long conference full of workshops geared to provide training for neighborhood leaders.  In one workshop talking about collaboration, Jennifer recalls the energy in the room: “everyone was exchanging numbers, it was as if we were kindred spirits.” It was in this workshop that Jennifer made the connection with CommUniverCity, and rooted her idea that the revitalization of O’Donnell’s Park might come out of a robust partnership with others.

In Spring 2014, the pieces started to come together. From some of the connections Jennifer made at the SVNDTC, Jennifer met with Peter Allen Lee, a CommUniverCity staff and professor in the School of Social Work at San Jose State. That semester, Peter decided to lead a group of students through a service-learning course, Social Work and Social Justice, to collaborate with Marcus Salomon, the South University Neighborhood Association and St. Paul’s United Methodist Church to determine how they could revitalize the park. The culminating event orchestrated by these groups was an Earth Day celebration, one that brought dozens of families, and over a hundred children, youth, SJSU students and neighbors into the park.  They all  participated in games and activities, and met to interact with many tabling community groups and support service agencies. Overall, it was a sunny day where kids and families celebrated sustainability and community spirit.

Earth Day, and the many subsequent celebrations held in the park, has shown the community how the presence of positive activities and the work of neighborhood partnerships can be a unique equation for public safety and park revitalization in the South University Neighborhood.

The next Silicon Valley Neighborhood Training Conference is just around the corner, on October 11th. If you have a kernel of an idea or project for your own neighborhood, or, if you are interested in how you can be a more effective neighborhood leader, consider attending! You can register today at the Eventbrite page.

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