In a declining economy, a program known as the Historic Black Church Project is helping people gain tools for success in the impoverished area of West Coconut Grove.
The University of Miami Law School’s Center for Ethics & Public Service program CEDAD (Community Economic Development and Design Clinic) is aligning themselves with churches in the West Coconut Grove area to provide education and assistance for people in need.
CEDAD has reached out to the West Grove community for more than eight years to foster change in a community plagued with financial hardships, drug abuse and crime.
“We had reached a roadblock in the spring of 2008,” said Joy Harrison, a third-year law student at UM, implying that the community enrichment projects CEDAD had implemented were getting little results.
That’s when CEDAD began to look for new ways to reach the community. The clinic members brainstormed and realized that great ways to reach people in need are through churches.
“Churches are where the community comes together,” Harrison said. “Churches offer stability for people who live in communities with disorganized infrastructures and suffer from economic hardships.”
The students went out and knocked on doors of churches in the West Grove area. Greater St. Paul AME was the first to respond. They met with the pastor and office staff to come up with ways to identify and meet needs of the congregation by setting up workshops and seminars once a month dealing with topics such as personal finance, voting rights and children’s health.
Once CEDAD had a working relationship with Greater St. Paul AME, the organization then proposed the idea to other churches in the Grove’s Ministerial Alliance, which links the West Grove’s churches to implement community action programs.
Soon many churches in the organization were on board. The program also brought in St. Albans Daycare, located at 3465 Brooker St., with more local schools in the Grove to be incorporated this year.
The students go to one of the churches each Sunday to meet with the congregation and identify needs of parishioners. They then implement the programs that address these needs with the guidance of CEDAD program director and law professor Anthony Alfieri.
“Youth programs have been the most successful,” said Katie Ainsworth, a law school student and intern with CEDAD. “This year will bring more programs aimed at the youth. However, most of the programs seem to have been met enthusiastically by the parishioners.”
Church member Nicole Crook said the youth programs have been successful.
“The youth respond well to the students who are closer in age and they relate better to them than adults,” she said. “Once the youth get involved, then their parents start taking an interest as well. A seminar that was extremely successful was the voting workshop. They came and explained the voting and polling procedures as well as addressed the issues.”
The project currently has three main goals. The first of which is to provide education in the areas of economic and financial planning for parishioners. The second is a referral for people who need legal assistance sponsored by the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Bar Association, the first African-American lawyers association in Miami-Dade. The third are seminars which educate from issues ranging in tenants’ rights to welfare issues.
Cook said the financial planning was not as well received as the other workshops.
“A lot of the parishioners feel that they do not need it since they do not have a lot of money,” she said. “However, I feel that people with lower incomes need financial advice even more than others who may have larger incomes.”
The two other initiatives involve the creation of an oral history church archive, which is being organized with the College of Arts and Sciences at UM, as well as the establishment of a national association between school campuses, churches and other community partnerships in order to help impoverished communities blossom.
The students who work on the project say they are satisfied with the project so far and see great potential for the future with more contacts in the community growing.
The CEDAD program is open to all undergrads as well as law students. Applications are available on the third floor of the Law School library, online at www.law.miami.edu/ceps (click on application) or by contacting Suzanne Nelson at the Center for Ethics and Public Service Department at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once accepted students will get 3 credits towards an elective. An information meeting will be held at 12:30 p.m. on Feb. 17 in the student lounge of the Law School with more information.