More than 340 residents, city officials and students braved unseasonably cold weather Saturday morning to participate in the fifth annual Good Neighbor Day, held at the College Park Community Center.
This university, the city of College Park and the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission collaborated to host the day of service, which took place from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Saturday marked the event’s highest turnout ever. Participants enjoyed a range of activities, including a 5K fun run, free health screenings, workshops, beautification projects, a food drive and an exposition featuring local organizations.
“As we strive to make this a stronger community, Good Neighbor Day has been one of the key elements,” said Gloria Aparicio Blackwell, this university’s community engagement director and chair of the Good Neighbor Day Planning Committee. “All the organizations that are part of the community become part of making that community vibrant, beautifying spaces that we all use.”
The event kicked off with its first-ever 5K run/walk around Lake Artemesia, part of a three-race 5K series hosted the School of Public Health’s Lose It to Win It program. Then, at 9 a.m., volunteers in bright yellow T-shirts split into groups to sort donations or participate in one of three beautification projects at Paint Branch Elementary School and local parks.
“One of the key themes is bringing the University of Maryland and community members together to create a sense that this is a common space and we have all invested in it,” said Tricia Homer, assistant director of the Office of Community Engagement. “The more people can connect, the more we can really build a community.”
Homer, also a resident, said the event holds special meaning.
“There’s a lot of distrust between residents and the community,” she said. “This is an opportunity to really get to know each other.”
Sierra Kelley-Chung, a senior individual studies major, and Hannah Breakstone, a senior international business and supply chain management major, came as part of activist group Community Roots. Breakstone is also the student coordinator for Lakeland STARs, a collaboration between this university’s College Park Scholars program and Paint Branch Elementary.
“It’s good to make a connection between the university and the community, because in my experience there’s no interaction,” Breakstone said. “We share backyards, so there should be.”
Resident Adele Cerrelli, who graduated from this university in 1980, said the event represents an improvement in cooperation since her time as a student.
“I like the outreach between the two,” Cerrelli said, taking a break from planting shrubbery. “When I was at Maryland, there was a lot bigger separation between the school and the town, and now both groups are making a lot more effort.”
Resident Jackie Pearce Garrett, a member of the College Park Community Foundation board, stressed the importance of residents seeing students engaged in their community.
“It’s critical residents see the university outside the walls of campus and see that the university is very invested in their community,” she said.
After the leak of an offensive former Kappa Sigma member’s email and the backlash it provoked, it’s especially important that the university take measures such as Good Neighbor Day to bolster its reputation, Blackwell said.
“This is a way for us to say, hey, we’re doing good,” she said.
Though university President Wallace Loh was scheduled to attend, he was unable to make the event, so Carlo Colella, vice president for administration and finance, spoke at the closing ceremony in his place. Mayor Andrew Fellows and state Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s and Anne Arundel) also spoke.
“The themes here are about partnership and how we can do together more than when we work individually,” Colella said. “A lot of people get credit today.”