On Feb. 10, Gonzaga University President Thayne McCulloh announced, in an email sent to the undergraduate community, Opportunity Northeast, a place-based initiative that aims to honor and strengthen GU’s relationship with individuals and families of northeast Spokane.
Housed in the Center for Community Engagement (CCE), Opportunity Northeast has been in the works for over two years, and it is the first time GU has invested in a university-wide project.
Since the conception of the idea, the planning process of the Opportunity Northeast initiative has consisted of listening to community members, assessing community strengths and challenges that need to be addressed, and conversations with university campus partners to bring the place-based initiative to fruition.
Opportunity Northeast is the first initiative in which GU has committed to a specific geographic area within civic engagement efforts. Molly Ayers, director of CCE, said the main goal — through intentional focus on a specific geographic area — is to have a greater impact on the communities surrounding GU and students that attend GU.
Ayers said Opportunity Northeast recognizes GU’s role within the greater Spokane community. Through providing resources and opportunities for neighborhoods of northeast Spokane, Opportunity Northeast seeks to animate the mission of the university through “leveraging our institution as a collaborative anchor in the community, as well as [bringing] the Gonzaga community together around a shared, sustained effort, [leveraging] the intellectual and practical skills of students and [supporting] instructional priorities,” Ayers said.
Opportunity Northeast will specifically focus on providing services and opportunities to the neighborhoods of Bemiss, Chief Garry Park, Hillyard, Logan, Minnehaha, Nevada Heights, Whitman and parts of East Central and Shiloh Hills.
Specific services and resources of this initiative will emerge over time, but CCE is developing strategies and priorities within the focus areas of improving whole health and educational opportunities within Northeast Spokane, said CCE Associate Director Bailey Wootton.
Opportunity Northeast will also promote an engaged campus and community within its civic engagement efforts. These three focuses of Opportunity Northeast were determined after listening to community members’ desires and priorities throughout the planning process.
In addition to providing resources and opportunities for the neighborhoods of northeast Spokane, this initiative will provide multiple pathways of civic engagement for students, faculty and staff. Some of these pathways include direct service, community-based research, policy-making and philanthropy.
The goal of this initiative is for every member of the campus community to be involved, making the impact expand beyond the neighborhoods of northeast Spokane and into the lives of students, faculty and staff.
Opportunity Northeast not only aims to educate students on social and economic inequity but gives them the opportunity to cultivate skills to make change within the communities surrounding GU’s campus.
“This deepened commitment to our place, to our community, is an expression of our Ignatian mission,” Ayers said. “While working in and with communities, students learn from the collective wisdom of community leaders and community members. Leadership, citizenship and community action become real and alive. This work encourages students to understand the economic, educational and social inequities that exist and the lived reality of those impacted by such inequities.”
For more information, there is an informational session on Tuesday, from noon to 1 p.m., in Jundt Lounge of John J. Hemmingson Center.
There will be two half-day immersions for students, faculty and staff to learn more about Opportunity Northeast. Those will be held on March 24, from 2 to 6 p.m., and on April 15, from 11 a.m. to 5:15 p.m.
More information and registration for these immersions are available on the MyGU site on the “Engage” page. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or stop by the CCE office in the Hemmingson basement to learn more about additional volunteer opportunities.