The situation that is killing Northeast of Downtown Houston

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Imagine a neighborhood with no men.  A neighborhood where most households are headed by grandmas or single women trying to work two jobs. I sit down with Christina Rojas to hear what Community Bridges is actively doing to help reduce poverty in Houston’s 5th ward.

Melchor: Where were you born? When did you move to Houston?

Rojas: I was born in Chicago and grew up there, and I moved to Houston 5 years ago.

Melchor: Who was the biggest influence in motivating you to get involved in Community Bridges?

Rojas: Jecca Steinberg who is the founder and also a rockstar in promoting this program to Rice University students. She showed me how Community Bridges can intersect with my future career in medicine.  Rice professor Dr. Michael Emerson was also influential and very passionate about working for a positive change in Houston’s 5th ward.

Melchor: Having worked with some of the kids in 5th ward, what are the biggest obstacles they have to overcome in their life?

Rojas: 57% above the age of 25 don’t have a high school degree. This statistic only adds to the cycle of poverty in this community.  In addition, most households are headed by single women, mothers’ working two jobs. This is the other big obstacle, no men present in the community to help raise the kids. Though, there is a program, the 5th Ward Enrichment Program, that is designed to empower boys to become responsible men and productive members of their families and community.

Melchor:  Do you have any stories about Community Bridges you’d like to share?

Rojas: Small Steps Nurturing Center, one of the non-profits we work with, was donated 10 iPads. One of the Community Bridges participants, developed a program that allowed the staff to enter new recruit data onto the iPads very quickly. Previously, entering new member data was documented manually and took hours. Now, the staff can direct that time towards the kids.

Melchor: Being a part of Community Bridges, what has been the happiest moments in your life, and the saddest?

Rojas: Every May we have a closing event where all the Rice participants make research posters displaying the work they did. Rice professors and 5th ward residents are invited. At this event we can all celebrate and look at all the things we did together to help improve the community.

The saddest moments are really just the logistical barriers we sometime face. For instance, sometimes it is the simple things like transportation (students not having a car) prevent us from doing what we need to do.

Melchor: Is there something about Community Bridges you think people do not know about?

Rojas: This is a repeatable program. In other words, other Universities can replicate it.

Melchor: How will your classmates remember this program?

Rojas: Community Bridges is designed to help support non-profits that are already involved in the community. I think students will realize how important it is to engage with their community, asking other community members how can they help.

Houston’s 5th ward is a historic community in northeast Houston. Founded in 2011, and starting with 23 dedicated Rice University students, Community Bridges began engaging with  other non-profits in the community. Rice students taught computer and dance classes, tutored high school students in an after school program, provided research support and special event assistance, and worked hands on with programs focused at improving early childhood education. At the same time, students participated in a once-a-week sociology course geared toward their weekly internship work that focused on the value of volunteerism and the development of a just, equal urban community. Interview was conducted on August 31, 2012.

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