UPDATED: Friday, May 2, 2014 - 10:14am
Waco, Texas — As West, Texas, continues to recover from last year’s devastating fertilizer plant explosion, the city – and dozens of soon-to-be and former high school graduates and other community volunteers from West – will have some of their most pressing addressed this summer through a $280,009 grant to Baylor University from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS).
The CNCS grant will allow the Baylor Interdisciplinary Poverty Initiative (BIPI) and the city of West to establish an AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associates Program, which will provide young people with a summer job while they create and participate in projects that will leave a lasting legacy on their hometown.
“We are thrilled to be able to offer this to the West community as a resource to assist them as they define what they want to do in the recovery process,” said Rosemary W. Townsend, director of business affairs and community partnerships in Baylor’s Office of Community Engagement and Service. “Baylor publicly said, ‘We will be with you as you walk through this process.’ This is a tangible thing that the University can do in partnership with our neighbors in West and the Corporation for National and Community Service as the city determines its needs and priority areas.”
Fifteen people lost their lives, including 12 first responders, in the explosion on April 17, 2013. According to the Insurance Council of Texas, the catastrophic event caused more than $100 million dollars in damage to West, destroying key infrastructure and damaging or destroying more than 150 homes and local businesses. The destruction led to several unique challenges for the residents of West, including the lack of local jobs, decreased access to quality and affordable housing and childcare options, and severely damaged school facilities.
As West builds capacity in local projects and programs, regenerates its economy and continues to heal, Townsend said VISTA Summer Associates will play a valuable role.
Under the grant, Baylor is in the midst of hiring 35 Summer Associates from West who are recent high school graduates or currently attending a college or university and plan to return to West for the summer.
Student projects will focus on education, health futures, capacity building and economic development, Townsend said. Possible projects now include creating a community garden, organizing and operating an afternoon youth camp, partnering with West ISD and the library and providing staff assistance to the West Chamber of Commerce to promote the city as a viable location for new businesses or investment. Additional projects will be developed by the Summer Associates based on the Forward West Community Plan report.
Students will work 40 hours a week from June 9 through Aug. 17, earning $928 per month. Each will be eligible for an additional education award of $1,175 at the program’s end.
“The VISTA Summer Associates program is a wonderful fit for West on a number of levels,” said Dr. Jan Hungate, chief administrative officer for West ISD. “Besides the fact that we now have a new summer employment opportunity for our graduates, the planned projects will require brainpower and ingenuity, and will create positive contributions to the community in this time of recovery and growth.”
In addition to the oversight provided through Baylor, the Summer Associates will be supervised by a VISTA Leader, who will be assigned to the West area for one year, and two full-time Summer VISTAs who will assist with implementing projects in West.
Townsend said at the end of the summer, the program will celebrate with a community-wide event recognizing the contributions of the Summer Associates and community volunteers in helping West move forward.
ABOUT BAYLOR UNIVERSITY
Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution, characterized as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University provides a vibrant campus community for approximately 15,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 11 nationally recognized academic divisions. Baylor sponsors 19 varsity athletic teams and is a founding member of the Big 12 Conference.
ABOUT THE BAYLOR INTERDISCIPLINARY POVERTY INITIATIVE
The Baylor Interdisciplinary Poverty Initiative (BIPI) is designed to create a catalyst for social change around issues of poverty, social justice and human capability through discipline-based service, faculty partnerships and civic research. BIPI serves as the umbrella for several affiliate projects and initiatives such as the Campus Kitchens Project at Baylor, an interdisciplinary minor in Poverty and Social Justice, a community garden, an 8-10 week summer internship and fellowship program, issue specific immersion trips, and conferences and symposia.
ABOUT BAYLOR’S OFFICE OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT AND SERVICE
In keeping with Baylor’s Christian mission to educate men and women for worldwide leadership and service, the Office of Community Engagement and Service (CES) provides the campus-wide infrastructure for coordinating, supporting and advancing informed community engagement with the intention of leveraging the university’s collective influence toward promoting positive social change.