Erin Blasko | September 1, 2017
Walking down California Avenue, past a patchwork of neat, brightly painted homes, neglected and abandoned houses, urban gardens and empty, overgrown lots, Patrick Paulsen, an intended economics and film, television and theatre major from Seattle, admitted to knowing little about South Bend before arriving at Notre Dame.
“I thought it was just cornfields out in Indiana,” said Paulsen. “So it’s nice to discover there’s more than that.”
Lined with old oaks and maples, California Avenue passes through the Near Northwest Neighborhood, which is among the oldest and most diverse in the city, populated by old Victorian mansions, sturdy “prairie boxes” and cozy bungalows, and home to a diverse mix of renters and homeowners, from aging widows on fixed incomes to low-wage factory workers, young professionals and tenured professors.
Led by Kathy Schuth, a 1999 Notre Dame graduate and executive director of the Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc., and Michael Hebbeler, NNN board president and director of discernment and advocacy for the Center for Social Concerns at Notre Dame, Paulsen and about two dozen other students toured the neighborhood Monday, Aug. 21, as part of Day of Community, a Welcome Weekend event aimed to exposing new and transfer students to the broader South Bend community.
Now in its second year, the event, led by the Division of Student Affairs in collaboration with the Center for Social Concerns and the Office of Public Affairs, introduces students to an assortment of businesses and nonprofits in the South Bend area, emphasizing service, education, arts and culture.
In doing so, it exposes them to life beyond campus and to opportunities for meaningful engagement with the community, from volunteer work to research and internships — both pre- and post-graduation.
The NNN’s mission involves improving access to affordable housing on the near northwest side through the rehabilitation of older homes, which it accomplishes in partnership with the city and federal government.
It’s also working with The Eck Institute for Global Health at Notre Dame, and a number of student volunteers, to quantify the lead problem in the neighborhood, where as many as 1 in 3 children have tested positive for lead at elevated levels in recent years because of contaminated paint and soil.