Engaging Youth, Engaging Neighborhoods Program

What is EYEN?

“Engaging Youth, Engaging Neighborhoods” is a collaborative project between researchers at the University of Notre Dame and the Neighborhood Resources Connection. We value and welcome participation from other community partners.

The Engaging Youth, Engaging Neighborhoods (EYEN) project gives voice to neighborhood youth, grades 7-12, and allows the community to see South Bend neighborhoods through their eyes. Using a camera, students explore their neighborhoods and communicate both what they like, and what they would like to see changed, about where they live. They then meet in small groups to explore those photos along with selected literature, art, writing. Students and their mentors then have discussions with Notre Dame professors to talk about why they selected the subjects they did, and to ultimately develop and propose a realistic plan to solve one of the things they identified as needing to be changed.

The EYEN goal is to provide an opportunity for youth to learn how to engage in civic life and to develop a new generation of community leaders.  “Key points of EYEN are creating a sense of community, creating a sense of voice, and creating a sense of democratic space,” says program partner Stuart Greene, a University of Notre Dame professor.

Who benefits?

Since the program began in fall 2011, EYEN teams have represented and explored South Bend neighborhoods that include Monroe Park, the Northeast Neighborhood, and the Near Northwest Neighborhood.  They now meet in citywide groups at the Notre Dame Center for Arts and Culture in an expanded version of the program.

The first team recruited by the Monroe Park Neighborhood Association wrote “I am” poems and drew neighborhood maps. A key concern for them was that they had no place to play and they were worried about safety and trash. The identified project was to get a short stretch of broken sidewalk replaced.  The Monroe Park team was also able to engage as co-presenters with the professors at a national outreach conference held at the University of Alabama.  “To be on campus made them realize they could be there someday,” said Kevin Burke of Notre Dame.

Students from the Photoformers Club at the Robinson Community Learning Center (RCLC) made up the second EYEN team.  They explored the Northeast Neighborhood in which the RCLC is located, and decided they wanted to improve Kelly Park on Howard Street, just a couple blocks west of the center. They did their research, developed their plan and presented it first to the Northeast Neighborhood Council and then to South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who said the city would help with their plan.

The Northeast Neighborhood Council and neighbors, along with the wider community, are now engaged with the youth as they realize this goal.  “The physical magnification of project was unbelievable to watch,” Professor Maria McKenna said. “They discovered their capacity to engage and inspire others, and know it’s safe to talk about what needs changing.”

The third team was recruited by a Northwest Neighborhood resident.  That team determined that they wanted to see a mural in their neighborhood and plan a talent show planned by and featuring youth. Their plan is still in process, as are other EYEN opportunities.

Another important feature of the EYEN program is its emphasis on post-secondary education. Students who continue studies beyond high school can have a long-term positive impact on the community.

The most recent Engaging Youth, Engaging Neighborhoods program was completed in April 2016, with the student photo exhibit continuing into May. Check the Facebook page for updates about our 2017 student participants and their adult mentors.

If you would like to know more about the program, please contact Diana at 574.287.0425 or nrcneighbors@gmail.com.