Widener University recently announced several endowment-funded community outreach and partnership initiatives focused on contributing to the vitality and well-being of the City of Chester.

According to Widener President James T. Harris, III, community outreach and partnerships are a priority of the university’s Taking the Lead campaign, a $58 million fundraising initiative which is the largest in the university’s history.

“Endowed funds supporting community outreach and partnerships allow the university to continue working with Chester to address some of the most difficult and pressing issues in the city, while providing unique and invaluable service learning opportunities for our students,” Harris said.

The university-funded initiatives this academic year include:

Chester Eastside Ministries

Dr. Lori Simon, professor of psychology; and Dr. Stuart Eimer, associate professor of sociology, are partnering with Chester Eastside Ministries to conduct an assessment of the organization’s afterschool and summer camp programs. The data from the assessment will be used for program development and to help acquire grants. The initiative is funded up to $6,000 by a Borislow Community-Engaged Faculty Research Fellowship.

Simon and Eimer will also receive a Hartford Undergraduate Community Research Award for up to $1,500 per semester to train undergraduate students in community-based research and data collection. Students will conduct need assessments, interview children in the afterschool program and conduct focus groups. They will also gather information about how the programs impact residents who live on the Eastside of Chester.

East Gateway Triangle Neighborhood Association

Dr. Marina Barnett, associate professor of social work education, will lead a collaboration of the East Gateway Triangle Neighborhood Association, Chester Community Improvement Project, the Chester Police Department and students from Widener’s Center for Social Work Education to conduct an assessment of the East Gateway Triangle community.

The data collected will be used to apply for a Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grant that supports the development of comprehensive neighborhood revitalization plans. The initiative is funded up to $6,000 by a Borislow Community-Engaged Faculty Research Fellowship.

Study of Athletic and Academic Achievement in Chester

Dr. Bretton Alvare, assistant professor of anthropology, in conjunction with Chester Eastside Ministries as a community partner, will study the paradox between Chester High School’s success on the basketball court and the underachievement of the school district’s students in the classroom, despite the fact that academic literature suggests that many of the qualities identified with success in sports are also critical to academic success.

Alvare’s research is funded up to $1,500 per semester by a Hartford Undergraduate Community Research Award.

Chester Shade Tree Inventory

Dr. Chad Freed, associate professor of environmental science, will develop and initiate a model for the design, construction and maintenance of a shade-tree inventory for the city. The project will include updating an existing shade-tree database developed by previous environmental science students. The update will include field verification of the location, species and condition of previously mapped shade trees. The creation of a city-wide database of shade tree locations and environmental attributes will assist the Shade Tree Commission in targeting urban forestry planting areas, assist in planning future tree maintenance and provide a base for future grant proposals. Freed’s research is funded up to $1,500 per semester by a Hartford Undergraduate Community Research Award.

Schmutz Student Mini-Grants

Twelve undergraduate students are recipients of the recently endowed Schmutz Student Mini-Grants. Awards are granted annually to support undergraduate student-led, Chester-focused projects that are developed in collaboration with a Chester community partner to address community needs. The mini-grants are funded up to $1,000.

During spring 2014, funding will support the creation of a community garden in a vacant lot, a Chester-focused magazine that will be used as an online and print resource to promote the city’s community and economic development initiatives, a Brain Awareness Week educational program for the Widener Partnership Charter School children, a 5K Fun Run for Chester children and youth sponsored by the Widener Physical Therapy Clinic, and a soccer leadership and mentoring program for Chester high school students.

The students receiving mini-grants include Jason Bishop, a senior communications studies major from Delran, N.J.; Anila Chaudhary, a senior biology major from Upper Darby; Emily DeFreitas, a senior English major from Kendall Park, N.J.; Alexandria D’Ginto, a sophomore biology major from Downingtown; Devon Fiore, a junior communication studies major from Lancaster; Caitlin Grobaker, a senior psychology major from Ambler; Daniel Hartney, a senior management major from Scotia, N.Y.; Brittany Kade, a sophomore communication studies major from Quakertown; Maria Klecko, a junior communication studies and English major from Aston; Georgia Spano, a senior psychology major from Bethlehem; Nicole Storm, a senior history and anthropology major from Coraopolis, PA.; and Khalil Williams, a sophomore communications studies major from Chester.

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