Mantua: Dornsife Center Educates and Bridges Communities

Drexel's Dornsife Center is provides many job readiness seminars to help Mantua residents prepare and apply for jobs.

As of January 2014, The Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships will open its doors to the community as the first “urban extension program” supported by a private university.

A vital element of Drexel’s civic engagement endeavors, the urban extension program provides residents the best resources a university like Drexel has to offer, right in their own backyard.

Rose Samuel-Evans, assistant director of university and community partnerships, said the Dornsife Center will provide access to Drexel faculty, student coaches and professionals from every college of the school.

The Dornsife facility will offer everything from a law clinic to architectural and engineering consultation to tax help, all free of charge.

Community Learning Center teacher Jim Landers teaches a GED class at West Philadelphia Community Center.
Community Learning Center teacher Jim Landers taught a GED class at West Philadelphia Community Center.

The facility does not officially open until next year but Samuel-Evans has already managed to reach out and connect people with those services they might need.

“My job,” she said. “Is to get the information out.”

Lots of times, it involves walking around the street, engaging people in conversation to learn their goals and needs, even going door-to-door.

Samuel-Evans said she takes the opportunity to get to know people so she can refer them to a service that Dornsife offers, whether it is educational assistance, legal advice, healthcare information or nearly anything else.

“Most of it is just talking to people and getting them to understand that we really want to help,” Samuel Evans said.

The Dornsife facility sits neatly on the border between Mantua and Powelton. Samuel-Evans, who grew up in the very community she serves, says historically, Powelton has been known as the more affluent neighborhood, while Mantua was always seen as impoverished. The two communities were always divided by economical or racial lines and didn’t have much to do with one another. One of the main goals of The Dornsife is community strength through cooperation and engagement.

Alicia Adams looks over homework from the night before. Adams, 49, hopes to get her GED and eventually open her own business.
Alicia Adams looks over homework from the night before. Adams, 49, hopes to get her GED and eventually open her own business.

To this end, the Center brought together residents of both neighborhoods in a Future Search Committee, which Samuel-Evans said is an excellent planning tool for bringing people together.

The Future Search Committee is in its planning stages, right now taking place as a weekly dinner, to allow residents from both sides to get to know one another but will ultimately form an advisory board that will be the decision- making body of the community.

The community advisory board will eventually be comprised of residents, community leaders and business owners.

Already, the Dornsife Center is gaining support and participants rapidly.

Through Future Search and community talks, Samuel-Evans said the area is unifying in a positive way.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “We’re planning some fun, good things.”

“We’re creating empowerment zones,” Samuel-Evans said of the long-term impact Dornsife’s efforts will have on the community. “In this community, folks realize that we are alive again. Drexel University has had so much to do with that, no ifs, ands or buts.”

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