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For Mikail Albritton, it comes down to three words: “visible, tangible and lasting.”

He is describing the impact he wants to have serving Atlanta’s Edgewood community this summer as an Emory Community Building and Social Change (CBSC) fellow. Albritton, a junior in Emory College of Arts and Sciences, hopes to pursue a career in research-based epidemiology.

In the Edgewood community, Emory joined a coalition consisting of the Zeist Foundation, Moving in the Spirit, the Wylde Center Edgewood Learning Garden and the Mayson Avenue Cooperative, all of which direct their efforts toward creating a better life for local children.

The Zeist Foundation — established by George Brumley Jr., former chair of Emory’s Department of Pediatrics — addresses the needs of underserved Atlanta children in the areas of human services, education, and arts and culture. The Mayson Avenue Cooperative serves as the affordable housing intermediary for the Zeist Foundation.

For its part, the Wylde Center offers one of the largest science-education programs in Atlanta, creating opportunities for children to experience nature in an urban environment. And Moving in the Spirit uses dance to teach young people the social, emotional and cognitive skills they need to thrive.

Albritton and three other CBSC fellows are assisting in identifying ways that these programs can best meet the needs and interests of community residents. The Wylde Center and Moving in the Spirit, for instance, are relatively new to the community and very much want residents to help shape their work. The CBSC fellows are working with these partners and other networks to help shape programming and communications based on broad community input.

Program origins and present-day opportunities

With a seed gift from the Kenneth Cole Foundation in 2002, Emory launched the CBSC program, which soon became a national model for integrating research and classroom learning with community engagement. The program gives students a leg up on careers in the nonprofit sector, education, politics, public interest law, medicine, public health and socially minded business.

Before a fellow arrives at a community site, their academic preparation consists of a fall course followed by a spring course and lab. The fall session serves as a prerequisite to application for the spring and summer terms for selected CBSC fellows.

In the 10-week summer program for upper-level undergraduates, students commit 30 hours per week to a project and are paid for their time. Emory also offers a CBSC minor that requires completion of the full program plus a set of approved electives.

Since the program launch, approximately 200 fellows have helped spearhead more than 35 collaborative projects, most of them arising from four areas of concentration: housing/neighborhoods, social policy and schools, health and environment/sustainability.

Founder Michael Rich, professor of political and environmental science, designed the program based on the reality that, for the difficult issues communities face, government, business and the nonprofit sector must come together. He teaches the fall course that explores the principles and theory of community building.

Seeking good listeners

“We have to follow the lead of community residents as well as organizations and businesses within the community. And that requires a new style of education — one that focuses on how we craft partnerships across sectors with the community,” says Rich.

Kate Grace, the CBSC program director, notes: “Emory is most effective when it helps to maximize existing infrastructure in the various neighborhoods.”

Another project of the CBSC, this one with DeKalb County, resulted in the DeKalb Sustainable Neighborhoods Initiative, which in turn enabled partnerships with neighborhood groups such as the Towers Action Group (TAG).

Says Victoria Anglin, a TAG leader, Given the fellows' ideas and technical experience, they helped us push for sidewalks along Glenwood Road. That area has seen the loss of life due to the lack of sidewalks. We owe our start in this important endeavor to the Emory CBSC fellows."

Helena Zeleke is a fellow whose primary focus is on the Clarkston community. She grew up in this part of Atlanta, her church is there, and many Ethiopian businesses that she and her family support are in the city.

Asked what she hopes to get out of the program, Zeleke, a rising junior in Emory College, politely but emphatically signals that it is not about her. “I’m pursuing this to give back,” she notes.

“Usually volunteering or service is seen as an opportunity to get experience or a fun day somewhere new, but the fellowship really focuses on organizing for a community and making sure that you’re doing service for the right reasons,” she adds.

“Life-changing” is a word many students, partners and community members reach for to describe the impact of the program’s projects. Rich appreciates the acknowledgment of the program’s value but is perhaps more thankful for the realism the program imparts.

“There is sometimes disappointment that change doesn’t come more rapidly or that it doesn’t become transformative. But, in a sense, that helps us better understand that this work takes time, patience and persistence. In the end, we’re in it for the long haul,” he says.

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Emory Inspired is about people out in the community sharing their passion, and just plain good ideas, for improving the home we share in Atlanta.

Somehow our paths crossed, and we are better for the partnership. Maybe you started a business providing meaningful work to others in the region. Or you are helping underrepresented local high school students see themselves in health careers. Or you are helping diversify county arts programs to better match the communities they serve.

Government, education, health care, business, the economy, arts, climate. Emory’s community partners touch all of it.

We have learned from you. And this series is inspired by you.

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