D.C. commits $500k for D.C. Neighborhood College

A GW-administered degree program that teaches District citizens to lead positive change in their communities received a $500,000 grant this year to expand its programming.

Former D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams approved the funds for the decade-old program, D.C. Neighborhood College, which is administered through GW’s Center for Excellence and Public Leadership, a training and research center within the College of Professional Studies.

The center arranges for professors to teach participants on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings for a total of 15 hours per week, a standard full-time course load. The program is free for those accepted.

Natalie K. Houghtby-Haddon, associate director of the Center for Excellence and Public Leadership, said this year’s mayoral funding for the program releases the program from relying on private donors.

“The grant gives us the opportunity to expand the program a bit,” she added.

GW not only gives the year-long program organizational assistance but also shares resources with participants, Houghtby-Haddon said. The program works to bring opportunities for leadership to people within the surrounding community. While the University gives so much to the program, Houghtby-Haddon said, it is better to share costs and responsibilities with the D.C. government.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for the University to fund it fully,” Houghtby-Haddon said. “I think it always needs to be a partnership with the government because then they get more effective citizen leaders to work in the partnership with the government itself.”

The D.C. Neighborhood College’s goals include developing cross-District networks of highly skilled community and civic leaders, according to its Web site. In the past year, there have been 53 graduates from the college, with professions including local civil service, banking, real estate, Latin affairs and communications.

Program spokesperson Karima Woods said the college is highly selective and tries to admit citizens from each of the eight District wards. She said the program’s staff hopes GW will eventually fully fund the college.

“We are hoping that GWU will fully fund our program in the future,” she said.

Karen W. Archer, who graduated from the college in 2003, created the Friends of Petworth, a neighborhood advocacy group for the neighborhood west of Catholic University after completing the program. Archer, who is president of the group, said she has helped organize some community amenities with the Petworth Recreation Center, including a new playground and renovations to the center.

A member of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission for her district and a branch manager at the D.C. Superior Court’s Criminal Information Center, Archer said she wanted to attend the college in order to give more to her community.

“The reason I went into the D.C. Neighborhood College program was that I thought it was a great opportunity to learn more about the city and how the city operates,” she said. “My main reason was so that I could serve the community.”

Archer added that she suspects some participants use the program for career advancement instead of a community service tool. She said if she could change something it’d be to receive credit for all of the hours of class she took.

“I think that really with the amount of time that we’ve invested, I think we should be able to get college credits for it,” she said.

Another graduate, Vanessa Ruffin, said the program really helped her and others become intimately familiar with the District. The full-time community advocate said she gained a lot of experience and training.

“I am always glad to receive and education,” Ruffin said. “I think it was time well-spent, (and) there were a lot of people to learn from in the class.”

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