Good Neighbors

In its first year, the Neighborhood Center proved itself a resource to the University and the community

By Sean Smith
Staff Writer

In its first year of operation, the Boston College Neighborhood Center has firmly established itself as a resource for the Allston/Brighton area and the University, Boston College administrators say, and is poised to strengthen its role.

Located at 425 Washington St. in Brighton, the center opened in January 1995, several months after it was proposed by the University during discussions with Boston city officials. While its origins are fairly recent, the center reflects long-held University beliefs on the relationship between higher education institutions, especially those in the Catholic-Jesuit tradition, and their host communities.

"I honestly believe we've succeeded in putting a human face on BC," said Neighborhood Center Director Theodore Dziak, SJ (right), shown with Assistant Director Timothy Burke. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)

Whether sponsoring large-scale events, such as a week promoting health awareness, or providing more personalized assistance, like helping a local sports league discover the benefits of computer technology, administrators say the Neighborhood Center is fashioning a new model for town-gown partnerships.

"Perhaps the most significant thing about the center," said Associate Vice President for State and Community Relations Paul Guzzi, "is that it is in the community, where it is accessible to those who need it. That makes an important statement about service and outreach, which are central to Boston College's institutional values."

"I honestly believe we've succeeded in putting a human face on BC," said center Director Theodore Dziak, SJ. "The center is a place where people in Allston/Brighton feel they can start getting assistance they need. They know that coming through our door brings them in touch with Boston College and its array of academic and professional resources."

"The door opens both ways," noted Timothy Burke, the center's assistant director. "Faculty and students at Boston College now have a connection to the neighborhood around them and can gain some very useful insights and experiences through their contact with the community. It might be a researcher interested in seeing educational issues a neighborhood like Allston/Brighton faces, or something as simple as a student nurse learning to give a vaccination."

Fr. Dziak singles out last October's Health Awareness Week, which the center co-sponsored with several local hospitals and health and civic organizations, as an example of the Neighborhood Center's role in, and acceptance by, the community. During that week, senior citizens received flu shots from School of Nursing students, women aged 50 and over without health insurance were offered free mammogram screenings at the center, and teens participated in a discussion about drugs that was co-sponsored by the University's HEART program, among other activities.

Encouraged by the success of the health event, the center will help organize "Celebrating Our Diversity" week from March 17-23, to focus on Allston/Brighton's multicultural community. Among the events will be a "Culture Night" at the Jackson-Mann School featuring various ethnic groups and performers from Boston College and the area.

The center will also continue a slate of monthly and ongoing offerings, such as English-as-a-second-language classes and legal counseling for local immigrants. It will help coordinate neighborhood service projects and activities for approximately 200 volunteers from the Boston College community, as well. Other events include free income tax assistance on March 19 and 26, and a discussion on college admissions with Undergraduate Admission Director John Mahoney Jr. on April 25.

"We're not trying to ride in here and do everything," Fr. Dziak said. "The Health Awareness Week showed we can be a catalyst and bring together different entities from within the community and Boston College to provide these services."

There are also anecdotes which suggest the center's impact, he adds. Last spring, the Neighborhood Center offered use of its space to an area Little League, which needed a place to hold its registration. During the event, a center student volunteer helped the organization computerize its roster and other information.

On one bitterly cold day earlier this month, after escorting visitors out of the building's narrow conference room and through its high-ceilinged lobby, Fr. Dziak greeted a young girl in a Chicago Bulls sweatshirt awaiting her tutoring session with a BC student volunteer. They chatted amiably for a few minutes, Fr. Dziak discussing basketball and, at the girl's request, explaining his clerical collar.

"Success can be measured in different ways," Fr. Dziak said later, as the girl and her tutor settled in to work. "The number of phone calls and drop-in visits have been growing steadily, so it is very obvious things are moving."

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