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Dayton Civic Scholars revitalize local park

By Hayden Doyle '21

University of Dayton students who helped revitalize a local park as part of their capstone project received a grant from the American Legion of Ohio for future work on that park.

The students, part of the Class of 2019 cohort of the College of Arts and Sciences’ Dayton Civic Scholars program, received the $5,000 grant in July after completing their four-part project to help enhance the Five Oaks Neighborhood Park.

The money will be used by the neighborhood to complete the park updates that the students were unable to see finished before the end of their project. They worked closely on the project with the Five Oaks Neighborhood Association — led by its president, Bill Marvin, a lecturer in the Department of Philosophy.

Directed by the Fitz Center for Leadership in Community and supported by the College, the Dayton Civic Scholars program creates an intentional pathway from the classroom to community leadership and public service. The Class of 2019 cohort included 14 students from across the University.

The University and the Five Oaks Neighborhood Association became familiar with one another before the Class of 2019 Civic Scholars started their project. In 2012, Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M., and Don Vermillion taught a Leadership in Building Communities class that constructed a master plan for the neighborhood, which included the revitalization of the neighborhood park.

Vermillion, then the director of public projects for the Fitz Center, worked with the Class of ’19 Civic Scholars on their capstone, which included working with a local neighborhood on a shared project. The students decided to work with the Five Oaks Neighborhood due to its diverse community and relationship with DECA Prep, an elementary school located directly north of the park. They then contacted Marvin to get the project underway.

Vermillion, who became executive in residence in the Department of Political Science, died in July 2018.

“His death left a void,” Marvin said. “But, you know, I’d promised Don I’d work this through with the students.”

Marvin and Fitz Center Executive Director Hunter Goodman met with the students later in fall 2018 to assure that the project would still be successful.

In the neighborhood master plan, four objectives were set for the park: to station new soccer goals; paint a mural that reflects the history of Five Oaks; create little libraries where books could be loaned and returned; and install a walkway around the park.

These objectives came directly from the community’s wants.

"Because of the immigration population in the neighborhood, there was a voiced need to have access to different kinds of equipment that would be relative to different groups," Goodman said, regarding the soccer goals.

The students started the first three projects on April 13 when they hosted a community volunteer day, and finished them on April 27 and 28 during a neighborhood cleanup weekend.

Marvin said a notable fixture in the University community showed up to help.

“Karen Spina, President Spina’s wife, came out and helped paint, which was pretty cool,” he said. “She does a lot of community service and stuff.”

The walkway, however, proved to be a difficult task, as it would cost much more. Partial funds had been raised, but more was needed.

The students mentioned this at one of the Five Oaks Neighborhood Association’s meetings and one of the residents, Stanley Pleasant, proposed a potential solution.

Pleasant, a member of the American Legion of Ohio, instructed the students to write a letter to the organization to apply for a grant.

Julianne Evans ’19 — at the time a senior dietetics major with a sustainability, energy and environment minor — penned the letter, asking for $5,000.

The grant was approved, to the appreciation of the Civic Scholars.

“Our DCS cohort is honored to receive this donation,” Evans said. “After working for two years with the Five Oaks Neighborhood, it is encouraging to know that others, like the Ohio American Legion, see the great work the community is doing and how we could be a part of that through our capstone project.”

The Civic Scholars’ capstone, however, ended before the grant was approved. They had seen the Five Oaks Park rejuvenated with two soccer goals, three little libraries, a mural and though it wasn’t finished, they had provided a major contribution to help the neighborhood eventually install the walkway.

In April, they presented their work to an audience at the University’s Stander Symposium.

The students were able to achieve their goal of providing service to the neighborhood, and Marvin and the Five Oaks residents are grateful for them.

“It helps a lot,” Marvin said. “We’ve got more children, neighborhood-wise, than any of the other neighborhoods. We also have an aging population. So, this kind of thing helps a lot. It’s always nice to have some extra help.”

For more information, please visit the Dayton Civic Scholars website.

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