To some, John DiMino, who holds a doctorate in psychology, may seem out of place pulling weeds and spreading mulch in the windless heat of a North Philadelphia morning. Working up a sweat, the director of Tuttleman Counseling Services feels right at home. Though DiMino considers his trips to the Sonia Sanchez Community Garden on the corner of Diamond and Carlisle streets relaxing, his work has higher goals than just reducing stress.
Guadalupe Portillo has lived around the Temple campus for nearly 60 years, but her affection for the university is often strained by what seems to be an increasing population of students who “just don’t care.”
DiMino is one of many Temple administrators, along with Temple students, hoping to reverse this embarrassing trend. Many students now share neighborhoods with longtime North Philadelphia residents, creating a highly-contrasted population dynamic.
According to some permanent North Philly residents, not all Temple students have been particularly neighborly. Tom Hinez, a block captain of the 2000 block of North Carlisle Street, is one resident who has seen “many things Temple would like to forget.” Hinez described finding beer bottles on his front stoop and being awoken by shouts in the middle of the night, but seemed most concerned by the physical altercations he and his children have witnessed, often between intoxicated college students.
Clearly thinking of his son and twin daughters, Hinez said, “No one’s child should have to witness violence.”
Evelyn Boyer, who moved to the area in 1945 and shares block captain duties with Hinez, said the same regarding Temple residents.
“Of course there are students who are fine neighbors, but too many think nothing of leaving trash on the streets and playing loud music late at night,” Boyer said. “They don’t understand that these are typical neighborhoods with children, working people and elderly.”
That ignorance and disrespect by Temple students is under siege by DiMino and Jason Riley, the assistant director of Community Service. Riley recognizes the deplorable behavior of some Temple undergraduates, but makes certain to point out that “the university is putting out great effort; the initiative is on the students.”
With the Office of Community Service, Riley coordinates thousands of volunteer hours to unite Temple students with the surrounding neighborhoods, including community clean-ups and group snow shoveling in the winter.
“Many students are a driving force in fostering a better communal environment; the question is how to drive the other students, to drive all of Temple,” Riley said.
Hattie Johnson, a 45-year resident of North Philadelphia, pointed out one of the most influential reasons for discontent between Temple students and their community.
“Each year brings a new group,” Johnson said. “It’s like starting over each time. They don’t know the neighborhood, so they don’t respect it.”
Recognizing this, Jeremy Frank, coordinator of the Campus Alcohol and Substance Awareness program, has begun “Welcome Wagons” for students moving into surrounding neighborhoods. These “Welcome Wagons” give students cleaning supplies, information about trash days and advice about being neighborly. Inevitably though, it comes down to the responsibility of individual students.
As Boyer said, “Students can have fun, but just need to be cognizant that when they get outside there are people in the houses they pass: children sleeping, families living.”
In the area immediately surrounding the Sonia Sanchez Garden, complaints and calls to the police have lessened. John DiMino isn’t dismissing the role the garden has played.
“A garden is a nice metaphor,” DiMino said. “It takes time; there is growth and progress, but it takes persistence.”
Evelyn Boyer may say it best, “we’re in a marriage with Temple. There are good days … sometimes we fight. But we just can’t get a divorce.”
Christopher George Wink can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.