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York Road Initiative fosters connections between students, greater community through farmer’s market, internships

By Courtney Cousins

Managing Editor

The YRI farmer’s market, which will be finishing up its season next Wednesday, Sept. 11, is almost unique in Baltimore. Its location in the Loyola police parking lot allows customers to use food stamps, debit cards and evergreen swipes because the staff has access to the internet, and CARES, which operates a food pantry on York Road, issues food vouchers for the market. The lot also provides a “safe space” for both non-campus and campus residents to come together comfortably and participate, says YRI director Erin O’Keefe, which is an important point for the Initiative.

Their goal is to improve the quality of life for those living, working, and learning in the York Road Corridor, particularly through student-developed and –run partnerships. While YRI has a few staff members, O’Keefe stressed that their programs depend heavily on students, from the York Road Student Association and YRI interns, to CCSJ service coordinators, volunteers and students participating in Service-Learning programs through their classes.

This fall, YRI is accepting applications for new work-study positions and new fall internships in community development, youth development, and business development, an expansion from their summer internship program.

O’Keefe and YRI program coordinator Marie McSweeney both said that because of the interconnected nature of their office’s programs, the work they do is driven by the interests of all people in the community. For instance, YRI initiated their farmer’s market based on the results of a community survey that indicated residents’ concern over the lack of fresh produce in the area.

On the flip side, junior Tommy O’Donnell used a Kolvenbach grant this summer to research community needs and interview residents through YRI and is staying on this year as a community liaison. Service-learning classes over the past few years have worked on project as diverse as writing grant applications and biographies of local leaders, to developing business models and tutoring students in local public schools. Some of Loyola’s art classes have created murals and pop-up exhibitions in the York Road corridor to help generate a sense of beauty and pride in the community.

McSweeney, who works with classes like LOY 101 to educate students about the York Road corridor and get them hands-on experience in the neighborhoods, says that the Initiative’s programs are not about helping those in the area so much as fostering a sense of community.

McSweeney says, “Really, during students’ four years at Loyola they are neighbors, part of the existing community; at the YRI we’re trying to change the perspective of the ‘other’ and truly engage students to make it an ‘our’ mentality—our neighborhood, our community, our home. If students want to schedule a tour or volunteer activity for their group, they can feel free to contact me and I’ll help them work through logistics and put them in contact with community members.”

The next farmer’s market will be Wednesday, Sept. 4 from 3-7 p.m., and McSweeney can be reached at [email protected].

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York Road Initiative fosters connections between students, greater community through farmer’s market, internships