Mount Vernon neighborhood program gains traction after delayed start

Media Credit: Madeleine Cook | Hatchet Photographer

Steve Gardner, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission member near the Mount Vernon Campus, started a program in 2014 to connect students on the campus with neighbors. After a slow start, Gardner said he hopes the volunteers will host events for students this spring and help them feel connected.

Updated: Feb. 4, 2016 at 9:50 a.m.

A program connecting students on the Mount Vernon Campus with neighbors is taking off, after what its founder described as a rocky start.

Neighborhood residents said the “Home Away from Home” program they first proposed in fall 2014 struggled to launch because of a lack of support from GW’s administration during its first year. The group, which started after three students died by suicide on the campus in 2014, has not hosted any events since a launch picnic, but plans on restarting efforts in the spring.

Steve Gardner, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission representative near the Mount Vernon Campus who founded the group, said administrators stalled the organization’s efforts for nearly a year by not responding to multiple requests for discussion. The group is sponsored by neighbors and is not an official GW program.

“The neighbors, whose sole motivation was to try to give something back and establish a program that we thought would help the University and fully integrate the community on the Mount Vernon Campus, were frustrated that there appeared to be a lack of support for our effort,” Gardner said.

Gardner said officials gave him the go-ahead to continue the program in the fall after he asked for help from University President Steven Knapp, who connected him to former Provost Steven Lerman, who lived on the campus at the time. He said Lerman was key to reviving the program, which he thinks will succeed despite Lerman’s departure at the end of the semester.

Director of Community Relations Britany Waddell, who is the liaison between GW and its neighbors, has been helping with the program, Gardner said.

Events in the program will include community picnics and events at neighbors’ homes, especially on breaks from school. Gardner said he hopes neighbors will also do more than simply open their doors to students – like being involved with school events this semester and holding an introductory event for students to meet the neighbor volunteers.

Gardner added that while there haven’t been events in more than a year, the goals for the program remain the same.

“We would like our program to focus on freshmen who, at the beginning of the school year, are homesick, and then secondly on foreign students who may be stranded on campus during vacation times or would like the experience of a more home-like environment,” Gardner said.

Kurtis Hiatt, a University spokesman, said the program is “created and managed by neighbors.”

“We appreciate neighbors’ interest in the well-being of our students and look forward to our continued positive relations,” Hiatt said in an email statement.

He added that the University continues to provide counseling services on the Mount Vernon Campus.

GW added permanent counseling to the campus and hired the first permanent counselor for the campus in 2014.

Susan Moyer, a member of the steering committee, said she hopes the new iteration of the community program appeals to international students and helps them relieve stress.

“It is really stressful. All of the community members have gone through this ourselves, and while not necessarily being international students or students not living far away from home, we understand the process and the stress that they are going through,” Moyer said.

Dinal Jayasekera, a junior from Sri Lanka who represents West Hall on the Residence Hall Association, said he thinks the program will be especially helpful for the international community because they can’t travel home as often as other students.

“I hope that we continue to have more positive relations with our neighborhood and help more students feel comfortable studying at GW,” Jayasekera said.

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