Participation in a volunteer program decreased this month after four students were robbed at gunpoint in Northeast D.C. while returning from a community service event late last month.
The four students were held up at dusk near the Benning Road Metro station on Sept. 28, said Phyllis Ryder, the students’ professor. Two of the students had been volunteering with the Higher Achievement Program, an organization that aids middle school students in developing study skills, behaviors and attitudes, as part of Ryder’s University Writing class, called “Writing for Social Change.”
None of the students involved were available for comment, but Ryder said no one involved in the robbery was hurt, and only a small amount of property was taken.
Martine Shorter, a spokesperson for HAP, said the organization instituted a shuttle service from the Metro stop immediately after the incident and that Metro police are working to make the route from the stop to the Kelly Miller School safer by replacing three streetlights and patrolling the area.
“We’ve reached out to the police department to let them know it’s an issue. The police and community members have walked along Central Avenue and reevaluated the lighting,” Shorter said. “It’s a good thing going on in Ward 7 and we want to keep it in Ward 7.”
Despite those improvements, Shorter said many of the students stopped volunteering after the incident and that only six or seven students continue to volunteer.
“We’re not upset at them, it’s completely understandable,” Shorter said. “We’re upset the robbery happened, but not that people are putting their safety as a first priority.”
Currently, there are only two rounds of shuttle services – one for the study hall students and one for the mentors – and transportation is only provided from the Metro stop, not back to it. Shorter said they are utilizing other means to help get mentors back to the Metro stop.
“We are utilizing our families and fellow mentors to take the mentors back to the stop, so there should not be any mentors [who] are walking,” Shorter said. “And if they are, it is definitely their own choice.”
Because of the hours of volunteering – 6 to 8 p.m. – volunteers usually leave the school after dark. Ryder said, however, the University is also working to ensure that students are kept safe.
“The Office of Community Service has been working with the students, the professor, the community organization, the police and the GW Office of Risk Management to assess the situation and make the location safer for future student volunteers,” Ryder said in an e-mail. “We have also set up volunteer options nearby for any students who wish to be at a location closer to campus.”