RU-N Completes 14 Projects During Fall 2019 Community Engagement Day

By Claretta Bellamy

“Rutgers University - Newark prides itself on being a very diverse and inclusive campus. Both our campus programming and special events reflect the vibrant campus culture and students we have here. Program Board caters to the U in University. It’s run by the students for the students. As much as we do focus on academics here, that is not all that RU-N is about. We host events that entertain, educate and create unity amongst our student groups. All work and no play creates robots. We rather create happy, functional people.” – Ariel Chambers, Excursion Chair of Program Board

Rutgers University–Newark students, alumni, and staff gathered in the Paul Robeson Campus Center on Saturday, Oct. 26, for the 11th biannual Community Engagement Day. Throughout the day, volunteers immersed themselves in engaging service activities across Newark to give back to the community. 230 participants volunteered at 14 sites.

Dean of Students Erica Williams and Kaitlin West, coordinator of community engagement and fraternity and sorority life, opened the event with a warm welcome to students. In addition to welcoming remarks, Williams also acknowledged students for their commitment.

“This epitomizes what we do here at Rutgers University-Newark, and what it means to be not only in Newark, but of Newark,” said Williams. 

After the welcome, students met with their site leaders to check-in for their assigned service sites. While some students signed up individually, others participated with their fraternities, sororities, and other campus-led organizations.

Rutgers-Newark shuttle buses drove students to their designated sites. Participating organizations included: Newark Thrives!, Greater Newark Conservancy, International Youth Organization, North Star Academy Clinton Hill Middle School, Unified Vailsburg Services Organization, Newark Water Coalition, Urban Agriculture Cooperative, Urban League of Essex County-Young Professionals, Ironbound Super Neighborhood Council- Newark Riverfront Park, Kinney Community Garden, and Ghana Way. Rutgers-Newark Career Development Center and Rutgers University Police Department held activities on campus.

Ten students performed agricultural work at the Lincoln Park Community Garden. Located on West McKinney Street, the once trash-filled lot now serves as home to an array of garden beds and plants grown by Newark residents. Thirty-seven-year-old Rutgers-New Brunswick alumnus Emilio Panasci supervises the garden. Panasci is co-founder of Urban Culture Cooperative (UCP), a nonprofit organization founded in 2017 that focuses on the food system for the entire city, including farmers markets and other business opportunities for local growers.

“When we founded the cooperative, it was mostly with the idea of, when we do farmers markets together with multiple farmers, we have more products, and we have more knowledge,” says Panasci. “We help build urban farms and farmers markets for food access around the city.”

UCP is comprised of local sponsors that support the garden, including Rutgers University, Project U.S.E., Whole Cities Foundation, and Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District.

A representative of one of the sponsors, Anthony Smith, executive director of Lincoln Park Coast Cultural District, Inc. (LPCCD), stopped by for Community Engagement Day. Smith, a Newark native, runs community partnerships and oversees engagement in LPCCD, which includes the garden.

“This is a very community-driven project,” says Smith. “It’s a really intergenerational experience that has been very helpful in bringing the neighborhood and community together. Community engagement is very important.”

The students assigned to Kinney Community Garden spent the morning doing agricultural activities like removing weeds, rearranging soil, and removing any litter from the garden. Brian Ray served as site leader for the day. The 22-year-old is a Rutgers-Newark senior studying criminal justice with a minor in psychology.

Ray is also part of pantryRUN, a campus organization that provides items for those who have difficulty affording healthy food. He decided to get involved due to his organization’s interest in providing resources to the community.

“It all started with finding out how, as a student, I can get involved with our university,” says Ray. “Different mentorship opportunities for students arose, and with that I just decided it would be important to give back to the community – and how better than to lead an initiative in Newark on the ground level.”

UCP’s Panasci believes that students’ volunteering not only helps the community, but also allows them to see more of Newark and what it has to offer.

“It’s great because a lot of Rutgers students are in Newark, but they don’t know a lot about Newark, so gardens are a great way to get out and see more of the city, understand the neighborhoods a little bit more, and understand that outside of downtown, there are a lot of great projects, including community-led projects, happening around the city,” said Panasci. “Whether students have a background in agriculture, I hope they understand there are many different majors and disciplines that address fixing the food system and providing healthy food.”