While most students like to spend their summers relaxing, catching up on sleep, or working at a job, a dedicated group of UR students choose to stay back in Rochester and dedicate their time to serving the city. These students, as a part of the ten-week summer UR Urban Fellows Program, work with community-based organizations and agencies in Rochester to give assistance in any area realm necessary.
The Urban Fellows Program “emphasizes civic engagement, promotes learning about urban issues, and fosters an appreciation for cross-cultural issues and urban life,” according to the program website.
“Successful applicants [to the program] have a strong interest in community or public service, urban issues, or other areas of civic engagement,” director of the 2015 Urban Fellows Program Director Abigail Deacon said.
During the program, students participate in three different areas of activities: Summer fellowship, urban issue seminars, and community and cultural activities.
“Fellows are placed with a non-profit or civic organization within the City of Rochester to build the capacity of different initiatives and projects,” Deacon added.
Students can be placed in various fields of work, ranging from health care and economic development to community revitalization and education.
Students come together in all-day seminars led by UR faculty and community leaders.
The seminars are designed to inform about local urban systems. Students then apply their knowledge in off-site visits and meetings with community leaders.
Fellows also participate in community and cultural activities in the city. These include both mandatory events, such as a Rochester City Council meeting, and those of their own choosing, such as Jazzfest.
Senior Alesa Yuodsnukis, an alumni of the 2013 Urban Fellows Program, was given the opportunity to intern at the Community Place of Greater Rochester with the Summer Enrichment Program, a six-week day camp for children from low-income households.
Youdsnukis’ task was to create and teach the curriculum for the literacy component of the program.
“I had a lot of freedom in what I did,” Yuodsnukis explained. She was able to include varied forms of education in her program ranging from “stories through movement” to outdoor games and art.
Before the program, she knew that she wanted to pursue teaching in an urban community after graduating.
“[The program] helped me develop my knowledge and appreciation of Rochester’s rich history and the efforts to revitalize and strengthen the community,” she said.
Shamen Radcliffe, a graduate student in the Warner School of Education, worked at two nonprofit organizations: Genesee Land Trust and Project Hope.
Genesee Land Trust is a local land preservation organization that works to preserve natural lands in the greater Rochester area. Project Home is an initiative to improve the overall health and well-being of the area.
For both organizations, Radcliffe’s work included door-to-door canvassing for feedback and recruitment, developing publicity campaigns, and organizing unique programs relevant to each organization.
“As a Rochester native, I was able to take a social justice stance and give back to my community, while developing connections and relationships that will last a lifetime,” Radliffe said.
The Urban Fellows Program emphasizes forging personal relationships with co-workers and community members of all ages and demographics.
“My favorite part was working with the children and seeing their excitement everyday when I came to work,” senior Jaziel Ortiz said. Ortiz was placed at Cameron Community Ministreis, a non-profit urban outreach program.
“I still go there occasionally and visit with them. They really impacted my life and I will never forget the experience.”
RochesterCares, a community service organization, was one of the organizations that received a Fellow this past summer. RochesterCares President Matt Wagstaff described how beneficial the program was to the improvement of his organization and others like it.
“Processes that we haven’t had the resources to develop were able to be created with our fellow,” Wagstaff said.
The Urban Fellows program has a major impact on both the community and the students who participate in the program.
The dedication of students to Rochester not only improves the area, but leaves the Fellow with the realization that the work they put in will truly resonate in the community.
Kanakam is a member of the class of 2017.