SJSU in the News: MetLife Foundation Gives $20,000 to CommUniverCity and SJPD

CommUniverCity, SJPD Honored for Work as Day of Service Projects Aid Community

Originally published by NeighborWebSJ in November 2011.

CommUniverCity San Jose’s fifth annual Day of Service was launched with recognition that law enforcement, the university and the community can successfully fight crime, remove blight and renew economic vitality in neighborhoods near the campus.

The recognition came with a $20,000 MetLife Foundation award given by the Local Initiatives Support Corporation to CommUniverCity and the San Jose Police Department. LISC is a national organization that promotes community development and policing through creative partnerships. The San Jose award winners were among 10 selected from a pool of more than 700 applicants.

The announcement of the award came early on Friday, November 4, at San Jose State University as 800 students and faculty prepared for their Day of Service assignments to remove graffiti, plant trees, clean up trash and help resident with neighborhood projects.

Specifically, the award recognized work that included cleanup of an abandoned railroad site, a shopping center renovation and a new housing development that helped bridge a divide between the McKinley and Olinder neighborhoods. From 2008 to 2010, the target area experienced a 17 percent decrease in overall crime incidents, a 34 percent decline in gang-related incidents and $4.8 million in public investment.

But for Day of Service volunteer, the focus was on the changes they could make in a day.

At the future Five Wounds Trail that begins near Five Wounds Church on Alum Rock Avenue, residents, SJSU political science students and Santa Clara County Supervisor George Shirakawa removed 70 graffiti tags and filled 53 bags of trash in two hours. That sets a record, according to Political Science Professor Terry Christensen.

“I think the volume of trash is actually declining, thanks to our ongoing efforts,” Christensen wrote in an email.

In the Delmas Park neighborhood, 30 volunteers worked with Our City Forest to plant 18 trees at 11 sites on five streets between West San Carlos and the Guadalupe Expressway. For most of the students, tree planting was a new experience.

“It’s kind of hurting my arms,” admitted Stephanie Ramirez, an SJSU sophomore as she and Daniel Thorburn, a freshman, dug into the dirt to make a new home for a young tree on Josefa Street.

“We really have to go deeper than this,” she said, looking into the hole. “That’s all I know for a fact.”

On Auzerais Avenue, another group supervised by OCF AmeriCorps volunteer Colin Reitman were getting their hands dirty as they loosened roots from the base of a young Flowering Pear before it was placed into the two-foot deep hole in the park strip.

“It’s pretty rewarding, right?” Jack Harding, a network analyst for the university’s technology services, said to the students, who answered with a laugh.

“A neighborhood planting project is a great way to engage volunteers,” Reitman said, adding that residents have agreed to take care of the trees while they mature.

The planting was the start of a Delmas Park project that neighborhood leader Phil Hood hopes will bring 50 new trees to the area through a partnership with Our City Forest.

Across town, another 30 student volunteers were building a rustic wooden fence along Caminito, a short pathway near the I-680 McLaughlin Avenue off-ramp.

The shortcut emerged over the years as a natural way for residents walking to McKinley Elementary and Fair Middle schools, grocery shopping and the bust stop at the end of the pathway. But the overgrowth of plants and trees, muddy conditions and trash made it unsightly and unsafe.

With a $2,000 grant from the National Center for Safe Routes to Schools and a $1,000 from the McKinley/Bonita Neighborhood Association, the residents cleaned up the area, constructed a pathway covered with fine gravel and cutback the vegetation. Ramona Lerma, a neighborhood leader, estimates about 80 people a day use the pathway dubbed Caminito.

To make the path safer and keep people form taking another shortcut across the freeway off-ramp, residents needed a fence. It was a perfect project for Day of Service.

“Once we told them what we wanted, they came ready to work,” Ramona Lerma said.

She and her husband, Dario Lerma, worked in advance to prepare the area for a new fence. On Friday, dozens of students rolled up their sleeves to place posts in the holes, fit the pieces of wood together and cement the supports.

“I love it,” said student and team manager Shane Peters. “It’s really good to come out here and see the difference.”

Said Brad Cardier, who volunteered with his Kappa Sigma brothers, “I wish there were more projects, smaller magnitude and more often.”