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Penn State/Casa Guadalupe connection:|
A model for community outreach
By Kerry A. Newman
| A longstanding partnership between Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lehigh County, Penn State Lehigh Valley Continuing Education and the Casa Guadalupe community center provides residents of the Allentown, Pa., area with a myriad of educational opportunities.|
Casa Guadalupe sits in an inner-city neighborhood in the heart of Allentown, a growing city with the third-largest Hispanic population in Pennsylvania. Programs are available to both young and old visitors to the center and include an after-school homework program for youth, GED-preparation programs and community gardening projects for senior citizens.
By collaborating with Casa Guadalupe, staff members from both Penn State Cooperative Extension and Continuing Education offices have been able to create programs that serve the urban community members.
According to Robert E. Leiby, Penn State Cooperative Extension director in Lehigh County, Cooperative Extension has partnered with Casa Guadalupe for more than 12 years. He has worked with Penn State for 26 years and is a key figure in maintaining the relationship with Casa Guadalupe. As a member of its board of directors and the treasurer of the Spanish Center of Allentown, he is closely connected with the community and can help gauge peoples needs and how Penn State Cooperative Extension can best serve them.
Leiby attributes the successful partnership with Casa Guadalupe to building trust and maintaining a presence within the community over the years. He called the partnership a significant achievement for Penn State Cooperative Extension.
By partnering with existing community-based organizations, Penn State Cooperative Extension and Outreach plays an important role that can be effective in urban areas, he said.
Dr. Theodore R. Alter, associate vice president for outreach, director of Cooperative Extension and associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences, added, Penn State Cooperative Extension is able to use the relationships it has built up over the years with these key community centers to introduce a variety of programs and learning opportunities to the community residents that will help people reach their full potential in our changing society.
Liesel Dreisbach, 4-H coordinator with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lehigh County, has facilitated summer youth day camps at Casa Guadalupe for 10 years. The two-week programs for 9- and 10-year-olds engage youth in 4-H modeled projects focused on nutrition, health and arts and crafts.
In addition to organizing camps, in 2000 Dreisbach conducted a pilot of the Mini-Society Program, developed and funded by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Using a hands-on interdisciplinary approach, the camp is designed to teach youth ages 8 to 12 about decision-making, teamwork and entrepreneurship. The goal is for the children to create their own ideal society, interact with one another and develop their own rules. As the facilitator, she took a hands-off approach and let the students resolve issues as they arose.
I step back and am no longer a teacher, but a member of the society, she said. I only teach at teachable moments.
Emelie Swackhamer, horticultural agent with Penn State Cooperative Extension in Lehigh County, has worked the past two summers on developing and facilitating the Garden Mosaic Program at Casa Guadalupe. Developed by Cornell University, the program is an intergenerational participatory research project designed to observe and document nontraditional gardening techniques that have been brought to the United States. The data is collected by youth, ages 8 to 12, as they work with the senior citizens who maintain the centers gardens.
The intent is to get children involved in the community gardens, Swackhamer said.
Over the course of the month-long program, in addition to working with the adults, the youth get to engage in other activities, like mapping out the garden, keeping journals and learning about gardening methods that urban children may not otherwise have opportunities to explore.
Penn State Cooperative Extension agents do more than just serve the community, they become a part of the community, Alter said. The relationships developed benefit both the community and Cooperative Extension, allowing us to offer programs that residents really need and want.
The community of Allentown has also benefited from Casa Guadalupes partnership with Lehigh Valley Continuing Education. Like Leiby, Continuing Education Director Kenneth A. McGeary has worked with Penn State for more than 30 years and has built a strong relationship with the community center.
McGearys partnership began approximately 10 years ago, when Continuing Education established the interdisciplinary Summer Youth Reading and Writing Camp at Casa Guadalupe. The month-long camp was offered free to children in grades two through six. The Universitys Summer Visiting Minority Scholars Program supported the camp. The scholars, from universities in Puerto Rico, played a key role in the camps by leading the instruction and serving as role models for the children.
In addition to organizing the Summer Youth Reading and Writing Camp over a period of nine years, Continuing Education has collaborated with Casa Guadalupe on other projects. Most recently, the staff helped integrate elements of the Summer Youth Reading and Writing Camp into the Penn State Cooperative Extension Garden Mosaic project and summer field trips for the children.
Like Leiby, McGeary is active within the community. He is a member of the Casa Guadalupe board of directors, works with the Hispanic Business Council and is serving on a United Way commission to address the needs of senior citizens. McGeary, who speaks Spanish, believes in the future both Penn State and Casa Guadalupe can combine forces to help meet the health care, educational and recreational needs of older Hispanic adults in the Lehigh Valley.
McGeary cited Penn States relationship with the community as the key factor to creating successful programs.
Penn State Outreach units working together have such potential in supporting both economic and community development initiatives that are important to urban as well as rural areas, where access to education is still an issue, he said.