Kenny Turner, 62, has lived off 16th and Fontain streets since 1968. He keeps his front stoop spotless and decorates the outside of his house with large colorful planters.
Turner also tries to keep his trash and recycling neat and organized every Monday for trash day, compared to his neighbors at other residences on the street, he said.
“I feel [the students] just don’t care. You don’t just throw a pizza box on the sidewalk, you need to put it in a bin,” Turner said. “The trash starts blowing around everywhere, and guess who has to clean that up? Me. Don’t nobody come out here and help me.”
The Good Neighbor Committee, Division of Student Affairs and the Office of Sustainability have created Owls on the Block, a new student fellowship program aimed at addressing litter and building better relationships between North Philadelphia residents and students.
The fellowship is open to students who live off-campus and provides a $1,000 annual stipend in return for 2-5 hours a week of community engagement, trash reduction and peer education on their respective blocks.
In June, five students were selected for the program’s pilot year to represent the off-campus blocks they live on.
Fellows will organize block cleanups, attend city service tours and work with the Philadelphia Streets Department to build a litter index throughout the year.
Chris Carey, senior associate dean of students, is the chair of the Good Neighbor Committee, a department within Student Affairs that uses programming and education to strengthen community relationships.
“We want students to go door-to-door and meet their neighbors, with the hopes of creating a street-wide communication system with fellow students and neighbors,” Carey said.
Fellows will have control over how they go about engaging with residents on their block, Carey said. He hopes the program builds community beyond trash-related issues.
Benjamin Burch, senior environmental science major, had signed his lease for an off-campus apartment at Willington and Master streets in December, and then applied for the fellowship.
“It seemed to address one of my biggest insecurities about moving off-campus which was the interaction between the native Philadelphian community and all the students,” Burch said.
Since being selected as a fellow, Burch has attended a popular church service on his block in an effort to get to know his neighbors better.
“It’s about meeting community needs at your block,” he said. “It’s not this overarching goal but rather about making sure that each block is getting their individual needs met and that you are working not above but with the community members directly.”
Kate Lyons, a senior geology major, has lived on 17th and Montgomery streets for two years and became interested in the program after observing issues with trash and student behavior on the block.
She will use a door-to-door approach on her block to provide information and resources to students and residents, she said.
“We want to be there to ease that transition between students and community members,” said Lyons, who is also director of sustainability of Temple Student Government.
She plans to lead students on a trip to the Wagner Free Institute of Science, a preserved Victorian Era science museum, to educate them on an important cultural institution in their community, she said.
Turner said that education is a part of fixing the litter problem, but that students should also know better.
“A lot of them come from homes where they don’t do this, so don’t come to a neighborhood and do this just because you can,” he said.
Turner has his own plans for community engagement on his block.
“I’m planning on making a flyer and going door-to-door and take some pictures of the trash showing the way it should look and showing the way it shouldn’t,” he said.
The increased littering problem caused by students living off campus is not malicious, but rather the product of a lack of education and awareness among students, Carey said.
“We need to educate students about the resources they have around move out time, how they can dispose of things, what their trash day is, things like that,” Lyons said.
Students should take the time to learn about the history and experiences of long term residents in North Philadelphia, Lyons said.
“The first step to take is the hardest one,” Burch said. “It’s going to take knocking on doors, really getting to know our neighbors to make this program effective.”