A new Buck-I SERV trip will focus on rebuilding the community in a city consistently ranked one of the most dangerous in the United States.
During spring break, nine students and Buckeye Civic Engagement Connection administrator Patty Cunningham will be traveling to East St. Louis, Ill. to help out in the struggling urban community.
Under the Ohio State Department of Student Life, OSU’s BCEC was formed in 2012 with the mission of connecting OSU with “its surrounding communities, focusing specifically on programming for individuals, families and entire communities facing poverty and its consequence,” according to its website.
During the week-long trip, which is scheduled for March 14-21 and costs $190 per student, OSU BCEC representatives will work alongside students from Washington University in St. Louis to help combat poverty in the area.
“Wash U has the no. 1 social work program in the country. So my thoughts were, ‘How great would it be to co-develop a program with the college, have them invested, and then when our students leave, those students will take over?’” Cunningham, who organized the trip, said.
Students will be able to sit in on a course at Washington University taught by Jack Kirkland, an African-American studies scholar who was involved as an activist and strategist in the Civil Rights Movement.
Cunningham said she thinks this trip will allow students to work with Washington University to address and fix larger community problems in East St. Louis.
According to the 2012 FBI uniform crime report, the city of East St. Louis had a population of 27,040. There were 1,350 reported incidents of violent crime, 1,827 incidents of property crime and 1,075 incidents of aggravated assault.
Cunningham said BCEC hopes to create a long-standing relationship with the populations within the urban community of St. Louis in need of help, and thinks the relationship will be sustained well after the OSU students return to Columbus.
“For me, solving poverty is by neighborhood,” Cunningham said. “So for us, it was important to look at the neighborhood, who can we partner with, and asking them, ‘Do you actually need help?’ instead of just pushing ourselves into that situation.”
Cunningham said she knows that problems in East St. Louis range far and wide, from city-wide problems with arson to wild turkeys roaming the streets.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Cunningham said of the turkeys. “I’ve seen them in the wild, or hunting spots. But I’ve never seen wild turkeys hanging out in a boarded-up house next to the corner store.”
DaVonti’ Haynes, an undergraduate site leader for BCEC and a third-year in public affairs, said in addition to the turkeys, he saw other problems plague East St. Louis when he visited the city.
“(I don’t think) they can’t even pay for stop lights,” Haynes said. “They (cut) their stop signs down to the ground, (I think they might do it) to save money.”
Cunningham said she acknowledges the similarities between East St. Louis and central Ohio. Both areas suffer from failing public schools, high drop-out rates, nutrition problems and high infant mortality rates.
BCEC has been doing work to fight these same problems in Columbus, she said, and these similarities made East St. Louis a natural destination for BCEC so that students can use methods they have used in Columbus to help those in need there.
While in St. Louis, BCEC will partner with understaffed local Neighborhood Houses to help kids and try and increase family involvement, Cunningham said. They will help make sure kids are well fed and help maintain the curriculum set up for them by the House.
“If we lose a kid by third grade, we can already see them — suspensions, expulsions, juvenile detention centers — so we really want to help them with what we’ve learned in our work in central Ohio, specifically (with) Columbus Public schools,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham added that she knows the problems that the BCEC will face in East St. Louis will not be fixed overnight.
“I think it’s continuous,” she said. “East St. Louis is gonna need years of sustainable help. So I think that’s a long-term investment and project.”
Correction: Feb. 8
A previous version of this article misstated the city Buck-I-Serv will be going to. The trip will be to East St. Louis, Ill. The statistics throughout the story have been updated to reflect that fact.