Much Obliged: A University’s Commitment to the Community

Simone Champagnie, Maryland-DC Campus Compact AmeriCorps VISTA/Campus Pantry Organizer, University of Baltimore

May 24, 2017

The University of Baltimore, along with several other Baltimore institutions, signed a pledge to work in partnership with the community to help foster growth in Maryland’s largest city. Recognized as an anchor institution, a hub of employment, research, and learning, the strength of UB’s relationship with local institutions in Baltimore help strengthen Baltimore as a whole. The power UB has to engage and enrich the community comes with great responsibility. Still, a university’s resources are not infinite and creating partnerships with local agencies needs to be mutually beneficial if it is to be productive and sustainable.

Various organizations, both local and national, contact our office for access to our students, space, time, and other resources. This is my first year working with the University of Baltimore, particularly with the Office of Transitions and Community Engagement. Many of the requests for meetings to develop partnerships come directly to me. We have to be careful in cultivating these partnerships, ensuring that we don’t promise too much, or deliver too little. Our responsibility to our community dictates that we spend our resources wisely and build partnerships that ensure the greatest possible community impact.

We want to be of service to every organization that presents a possible partnership, but as with most relationships, community partnerships take time and resources to cultivate. We try to start small in developing partnerships, beginning with very simple, measurable efforts, which can then grow and expand as the partnership grows. If these partnerships are sustainable and beneficial, they may grow. If they are not managed well, that can reflect poorly on the institution as well as the local community.

A partnership is more than a single event or an isolated interaction--it’s important to envision the far-reaching benefit of working with a community organization. It is sometimes difficult to turn away organizations doing good work in the community, but we are mindful that the responsibility we have to the community is to provide the best of what we have to offer.

Some factors to contemplate when considering developing a partnership with a community organization:

  • Do the values and vision of this organization align with those of your institution?
  • Do you have the resources and time to allocate to this organization?
  • What is this organization bringing to the partnership?
  • Are there students, staff, or faculty who have worked with this organization and can provide you with stronger, more personal connections?

The University of Baltimore opened its Campus Pantry in October 2016. The pantry is meant to provide supplemental food and basic necessities to reduce the burden of food insecurity on campus and allow members of the UB community to focus on their academic, personal, and professional endeavors. It’s not enough to simply provide food, though. The pantry also provides resources that help connect individuals with community organizations. A partnership we are currently developing is with an organization called Hungry Harvest. This relationship bloomed out of a conversation at a conference with another community partner, Reading Partners. They introduced us to a Hungry Harvest representative. Our pantry participants have been requesting fresh fruits and vegetables which we attempt to provide when we can;  unfortunately, donations of these items is inconsistent at best. The partnership with Hungry Harvest would provide 2-3 lbs. of recovered produce to the pantry for every order of produce made by our students, staff, and faculty. This partnership would allow those who would like to donate to the pantry an avenue to do so while also receiving healthy, local produce that would otherwise have gone to waste. This partnership meets all of the requirements we consider when evaluating potential partnerships. 

Yes, your institution has an obligation to the community that provides you with students, employees, and other resources and as an institution of higher learning. That obligation comes with a responsibility to leverage our resources in a way that is rewarding and impactful to the community and the institution. Doing so garners a deeply respectful and mutually rewarding relationship

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