Author: Elizabeth Figueroa, Special Programs Manager
The Northside Neighborhood sits in an ideal spot between Downtown San Jose, Coyote Creek, and central highways including HWY 101. At the center of the neighborhood lies Backesto Park, a staple of the community where families play, runners take a few laps around the 10 acre park, and children are dropped off at the bustling Downtown Enrichment Center, which has served the Northside Neighborhood as an after school education and safety recreational program since 2015. They build confidence and self-esteem in each child so that they are empowered to say “yes” to community pride, leadership, and higher education.
Downtown Enrichment’s community pride was on full display for CommUniverCity’s summer service learning collaboration with the Spartans Scholar Institute and EOP Summer Bridge. For their last weekend of Summer Bridge, on the morning of Saturday, July 28, 2018, ninety service learners rolled into Backesto Park to help welcome local vendors and manage family activities that were part of the Backesto Park Bazaar, formerly Backesto Flea Market. The Backesto Bazaar aimed to include the usual vendors and customers, but also new aspects such as a non profit resource area (Lions Club International, Preservation Action Council, etc), food trucks, and the inclusion of SJSU service learners, many of which were new to town.
“I was thinking about how close and interactive the community is with each other. In Bakersfield our community involvement is nonexistent and it was refreshing to see the community interacting with each other and bringing their families to enjoy the day.”
It is not out of the ordinary for the average SJSU student to view the immediate campus as the only community they are a part of during their time in town. The concept of service learning leads a student to grow into new experiences by exploring communities new and different from what some would consider an insulated campus. Post-service learning, a student’s concept of community stretches to include CommUniverCity neighborhoods like South University, Horace Mann, McKinley-Bonita, and Northside in their new view of community.
By actively engaging with the local community before beginning their first full semester, students attain a level of comfort with their new home that no orientation could match. Rather than simply learning about resources and how to be successful at SJSU, events like the Backesto Bazaar allow incoming students to understand they have the ability to play a pivotal role in their extended community. A CommUniverCity partnership elevates a student from their regular persona as a university student to a Community Engaged Learner who will go on to continue helping communities.
“After the community service event at the park this Saturday, I realized how fun and important community service is and so now I plan to look for community service opportunities during my time here in San Jose since this is my new home and I want to contribute in beautifying it and making it into a better place.”
A majority of this Summer Bridge cohort includes first-generation college students and, for many, this is their first time venturing far from home. As one student tells it, Southern California doesn’t have very tight-knit communities and events like this are unusual and rarely take place. Another student mentioned the biggest takeaway from the event was happiness. For them, the support exhibited by the Northside Neighborhood for a community effort like the Backesto Bazaar caused them to reflect on their experiences growing up in their neighborhoods and how it will compare to new experiences they will have in town.
“I walked back (to campus) with the thought of gratitude towards everyone’s hard work throughout the day. There were so many people there working and interacting with their community and I was so glad that I will be living in a community like that.”
Community events like the Backesto Bazaar are crucial for all communities as it provides residents an opportunity and a space to connect with other neighbors. Strong neighborhood connections, or social capital, within one’s own community is important for community safety and engagement. The super team at Downtown Enrichment demonstrated perfectly how keeping connections open and traditions alive positively impacts a neighborhood. Thanks to their openness and willingness to uplift their community with these connections, the Bazaar (formerly the Backesto Flea Market) will continue to improve, grow, and keep the neighborhood safe.