You might think college fraternities and their residential neighbors unlikely allies.
But a program at work in the State College Highlands neighborhood is showing that greater shared understanding can lead to better relationships, despite differences.
The Neighbor to Neighbor effort was launched in 2010 and at first involved five households and the same number of Penn State fraternities, meeting to get acquainted and share concerns.
As our Jessica VanderKolk reported last week, the program has taken off in three years. Now, 23 households are participating, interacting with many of the 44 fraternities in the area of State College south of campus and the downtown.
Together, they’re tackling issues such as noise and property damage, and seeing gains in behavior and respect.
“It is a way to provide communication so we can understand each other more,” organizer Peg Hambrick said. “It’s just better to live here.”
Students and residents have shared cook-outs and game nights. And they part knowing a little more about each other.
“Contrary to some opinions, these are very bright, articulate, pleasant, concerned citizens of our neighborhood,” resident Dave Schuckers said of the members of Alpha Kappa Lambda he and his family have come to know.
Penn State fraternities are often powerful forces for good, including generating donations for Thon and other meaningful efforts.
But there also are times when their interests collide with those of their neighbors.
This program is helping both sides understand their mutual relationship and the value each brings to the community.
“Most of these students didn’t really know much about our neighborhood and really didn’t get a chance to talk to residents,” Hambrick said.
“Now we’re all a person to each other,” said Roy Baker, director of the Penn State office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
Hambrick said meeting the students’ parents was a valuable element of the effort.
“Most of them were shocked that we wanted to be neighborly with their sons,” she said. “We were able to convey that sometimes it’s a challenge, but it’s a really good opportunity to get to know the students and vice versa.”
State College Police Chief Tom King applauded the effort.
“It is the type of community engagement that we encourage, where citizens take responsibility for their own community,” King said. “Neighbor to Neighbor represents a grass-roots program that is connecting student and nonstudent residents in a positive relationship.”
To all involved, we say: Well done, and keep growing those relationships.
Neighbor to Neighbor is a model that could be put to work in every college town.