CommUniversity brings campus and community together

Author: Gene Stowe

CommUniversity Day 2012

More than 800 campus and community people participated in the fourth CommUniversity Day on March 31, organized by Student Government in collaboration with other colleges, South Bend officials, the Robinson Community Learning Center and other Notre Dame groups.

Projects included painting at El Campito Day Care, door-to-door collections in the Robinson Center neighborhood for the Food Bank of Northern Indiana, and projects at the Near Northeast Neighborhood, the Martin Luther King Center, the Center for the Homeless, Unity Gardens and local parks.

At the Robinson Community Learning Center in the morning, volunteers painted rain barrels and loaded soil into raised garden boxes next to the building—“kids and grown-ups and Notre Dame students,” said Jennifer Knapp Beudert, who became manager of the center on CommUniversity Day 2010. “That’s the great thing about the day—you get all the generations together.

“We’re going to plant a garden with the kids,” she said. “Hopefully we’ll have some vegetables throughout the summer, which will be a different experience for these urban kids.”

As the once-gray day brightened and warmed, roommates Jack Yusko and Thomas Meyer of Dillon Hall and Brendan Dolan, a student senator from Carroll Hall, lit charcoal in long grills for the coming community picnic.

“I think the CommUniversity Day is a good idea—linking the school that can sometimes feel isolated," Dolan said.

“I live in the neighborhood too, so I see both sides,” said Annie Cahill Kelly, director of community partnership and service learning at the Center for Social Concerns, who waited in line later for grilled hamburgers with her 6-year-old daughter, Grace, in the sun-splashed Robinson parking lot.

The picnic, dotted with blue CommUniversity Day T-shirts bearing the slogan “Deepening our Roots,” included a performance by the Halftime a cappella group and display tables with representatives of organizations that seek to serve the community, including Neighborhood Watch.

Among them were: The Arts at Notre Dame, an informal group that started this year to foster collaboration among arts organizations on campus, aims to reach into the community, said student Hal Melia.

The Bald & The Beautiful, a four-year-old event that started as a head-shaving initiative for solidarity with cancer patients and has expanded into hair donations and colored hair extensions, has raised $115,000 for Memorial Hospital, said senior Catherine Soler.

The Irish Experience, a new initiative organized by Kevin Dugan, manager of youth and community programs in the Department of Athletics, brought young people from the Martin Luther King Center to Irish Green activities and the picnic.

In addition, bus tours offered residents an inside look at the campus, a new experience even for near neighbors, then brought them back to the picnic.

“I had never gone to all the buildings we went to see today,” said Katherine Hughley, who has lived more than 20 years on Howard Street without such a thorough campus tour. “It was very exciting.”

“I’m really pleased with how the day all went,” said senior Erika Hansen, chair of community relations for Student Government. “This is perfect picnic weather. I couldn’t be happier.”