0
Votes

Neighborhood College Teaches How County Operates

Seeking to empower residents who could use the lessons most.

Neighborhood College 2013

Application Deadline: March 4.

Application: Download at http://www.arling...

then search "Neighborhood College."

Class Limit: 25.

Classes: Eight, on Thursday evenings 6-9 p.m., April 4 through May 23.

Dinner: Will be provided

Childcare: Will be available, if needed.

Contacts:

Liaison, Merianne Liteman, 703-575-8152

County Project Officer, Katie Brown-Henry, 703-228-3819

— "Arlington County's "Neighborhood College" is: (A) Eight weeks of programs abut Arlington government; (B) A means of "leveling the playing field" between residents in well-to-do neighborhoods and residents in less-well-to-do neighborhoods in Arlington; (C) A tool allowing members of Arlington civic groups to become more effective in community affairs; (D) An entry to "The Arlington Way"; or (E) All of the above.

The answer is "(E)."

Residents of many areas in Arlington are well-to-do, highly educated and experienced in business, the military and government. If a county service fails, such citizens know (or know how to find out) whom to contact to correct the situation. These people have little need for "Neighborhood College."

"Neighborhood College has been a terrific program and I encourage people to apply."

— Mary Hynes, member, Arlington County Board

Arlington also has areas that are disadvantaged in terms of income, education and even culture. Residents do not know the full range of county services. When an available benefit does not arrive, they lack knowledge of how to right the situation. Sometimes, they grew up fearful of all public officials and simply let the matter slide. These citizens are one intended audience for "Neighborhood College."

"If you do not know the many services and benefits available from the county or if you do not know how to gain access to those available services and benefits, then 'Neighborhood College' is for you," said Liz McGonigle, a graduate. She viewed enrollment as an extension of involvement with her East Falls Church Civic Association. Upon receiving the "graduation certificate" at a County Board Meeting, McGonigle reflected "It's too bad there is no 'Part II' in this program."

Eligible Neighborhood Strategy Areas

Neighborhood College is open to all Arlington residents 18 and older. Residents of the following areas: Buckingham, Columbia Heights West, Pike Village Center, Nauck, Arlington View, Long Branch Creek, Radnor/Fort Myer Heights, Barcroft, Lyon Park, Penrose and Westover will be given priority to register.

A dozen years ago, local officials recognized that certain clusters of neighbors in Arlington lacked basic knowledge regarding county programs. It became clear that these geographic areas generally coincided with 11 "disadvantaged districts" identified for another purpose: to qualify for U. S. Housing and Urban Development block grants. On its own initiative and using only local resources, the Arlington County Board created "Neighborhood College."

Official notices describe the curriculum: "Participants will learn how various county departments operate and what services the county government provides, as well as gain and sharpen communication, coalition-building, and networking skills." They also state the goal in plain language: "(Participants) will become more effective community activists and leaders." The latter is converted into a suggestion: Participants should "commit to engage in at least 10 hours of volunteer work in Arlington County" before the end of 2013.

Asked why the program exists, Katie Brown-Henry, lead county staffer for Neighborhood College, explained that "citizen involvement and participation is basic policy in Arlington County. Neighborhood College opens the door for many who otherwise might not join in what some call 'the Arlington Way'."

About 250 Arlingtonians graduated from the program over the past dozen or so years. They have gone on to serve the community in many capacities, including civic association president, civic federation president, employment center manager, county advisory board member and elder care advocate.

County Board Member Mary Hynes is a solid supporter of the program. "Neighborhood College has been a terrific program," she said, "I encourage people to apply. The alumni of Neighborhood College have a 'leg up,' so to speak, in that they are already knowledgeable about how county government works … what their role is … and how best they can serve their neighborhoods and work to improve them."

Approximate annual cost is $60,000: For staff personnel, $40,000, and for other expenses (sign language translators, contract facilitator, participant materials and general supplies), $20,000.

Updated: This story has been changed to state that all Arlington residents 18 and older are eligible to apply for the County's "Neighborhood College" program.