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Neighborhood Partners goes to school

Posted on Oct 5, 2015, by

The following reprinted article from The Post-Crescent describes the success Neighborhood Partners is having working with Columbus School. The program, initiated by Sustainable Fox Valley and supported by three Environmental Sustainability grants totaling $95,000 over four years, is now a program of Goodwill Industries.


APPLETON — Students at Columbus Elementary School and Appleton Bilingual School may not realize it, but
they’ve benefited from a movement happening right outside their doors.

ColumbusPlayground

Playground work at Columbus Elementary.

The Neighborhood Partners program kick-started activity in the Historic Central Appleton neighborhood five
years ago, said Julie Filapek, program coordinator. The neighborhood extends from Wisconsin Avenue south to
Packard Street, and Richmond Street east to Meade Street.

Thanks to volunteer efforts, students at the schools have grass and trees on their playground, where before
they only had asphalt. Volunteers also created art for the playground fence and taught minicourses
at the school on doubledutch jump roping and birdhouse building, among others.

“It made sense to focus on the school and radiate out from there,” Filapek said. “It’s really a lively community and it’s a great partnership.”

Elizabeth Gordon moved into the historic neighborhood three years ago. She joined the volunteer effort soon after, and is now a member of the neighborhood steering committee.

Gordon taught a minilesson at Columbus on what’s inside a rock. The minilessons were held on a Saturday, and were led by neighbors who wanted to share a pastime or a project with students.

The goal was to connect students to people who live around them, and who they could learn from.
Gordon sees the economic and cultural diversity in the neighborhood as an asset, especially if the community embraces the schools. Columbus and Appleton Bilingual School students are 75 percent and 55 percent economically disadvantaged, respectively, according to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

“At Columbus there are a lot of children who might not have the advantages of people in some other neighborhoods, and it’s fun — they (the students) want to learn. They get interested,” Gordon said. “I also think there’s a cultural diversity here and maybe some of the things the kids learn will incorporate their parents more into the neighborhood so that we become a little more unified while at the same time remaining diverse.”

By asking community members to volunteer at the schools, students will have more positive influences in their lives and feel safer in their neighborhood,Filapek said.

“Kids having more and more positive role models is so helpful and wonderful, and to my mind, having those role models right in your neighborhood — just having the feeling for the kids that your neighborhood is full of people who care about you, who care about kids — is a really great thing,” she said.

The Historic Central Appleton Neighborhood has come a long way in five years, with neighbors hosting picnics, pot lucks and holiday caroling nights.

They started a community garden at St. Therese Parish and cleaned Arbutus Park.
Residents say they have more to accomplish.

More than 20 people met Wednesday at Columbus School to reevaluate their priorities and brainstorm new projects. They focused on neighborhood safety, property maintenance and building the local economy.

A main catalyst to the effort is the neighborhood’s reputation. With many halfway houses and homes where registered sex offenders live, residents think their neighborhood is looked down on.

“I think it goes back to the design. They (halfway houses) are designed to be put into this neighborhood because no one else wants them,” said resident Ron Sabai.

Absent landlords are a major concern for many of the property owners. A few people favored finding out who the landlords are and establishing relationships with them. The intent is to have landlords benefit from having neighbors contact them about unruly or destructive tenants.

Sabai suggested handing out a welcome packet to people who move into the neighborhood, whether they’ve rented or purchased a home. The packet uld include a city brochure so people know when recycling dates are and who to contact in city government if they need something.

The group also wants to reestablish a Neighborhood Watch group and have a person in the community serve as a liaison with the Appleton Police Department for nonemergency issues.

— Jen Zettel: 9209931000,
ext. 539, or [email protected]; on Twitter @jenzettel

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