Lauren Walker is a senior at the University of Notre Dame studying Environmental Engineering (Energy Studies minor). She is from Indianapolis IN and participated in the CCI Summer internship program on the Bilingual Services team during the 2021 summer.
How did this experience affect your view and attachment to the South Bend/Elkhart region?
This summer, my team and I worked with the CCI, Lacasa, Inc., and the Community Foundation of Elkhart to support residents of Elkhart’s South Central neighborhood in recognizing their community’s greatest strengths and resources, and ensuring that residents’ voices are valued in the community development process. Through this process, I had the privilege to meet with a great group of residents and community leaders to learn about all the people, organizations, institutions, physical spaces, and rich history/culture that they view to be their neighborhood’s greatest assets. While the South Bend/Elkhart region has a lot of great physical amenities and organizations, the “assets" that I was most inspired by are the diverse range of people I met who have so much community pride and are all passionate about improving their communities. Overall, this project has given me a much greater appreciation for the strong communities and leaders in the region and especially in the South Central neighborhood of Elkhart.
What was the most rewarding experience in the program?
The most rewarding experience for me was meeting so many amazing people who care so much about helping their communities to thrive. Toward the end of the summer, my team attended a community picnic at a resident’s house where we presented the results of the asset-mapping surveys, ate some delicious, home-cooked Tamales, and talked with residents and Mayor Rod about future initiatives residents would like to see happen. It was inspiring to hear everyone’s stories about how much they care about the neighborhood and the visions they have for the future.
This summer, I also learned so many valuable lessons about community development and empowerment. For example, I learned just how important it is to spend time studying the history of a neighborhood, building relationships with community members, learning about residents’ values, priorities, and visions for the neighborhood, and to put aside any preconceived notions of what you think might be best for residents. Ultimately, community development should be about empowering and connecting residents with a network of people and resources they can use to bring about the visions they foresee for their communities.
How did your experience in the program enhance your academic and professional goals?
As an Environmental Engineer, it is incredibly important that all the projects I work on, especially if they are infrastructure projects that directly affect people’s daily lives, are first and foremost made for the betterment of the communities they are in. Although it is not always possible to have a high level of community participation in engineering projects, this experience has taught me how important it is to have as much community involvement as possible as early as possible in the decision-making process.
This program has also given me a much greater appreciation and passion for community development and urban planning. This experience has motivated me to want to become more involved in my community throughout my life.