Connecting Haverford to the Community
New initiatives aim to build a stronger relationship with the Ardmore neighborhood that borders the campus.
Since graduating last spring, work days for Frances Condon ’21 have involved dealing with soil, plants, grant writing, and a range of other tasks to help support community gardens just beyond the campus borders.
Condon is the first Bethel AME Church Ardmore Victory Gardens Fellow, a position funded this year through a partnership between Haverford Students' Council and the Haverford College Arboretum to support efforts to grow food and promote home gardening in Ardmore’s Black community.
Since the first vegetable was planted in 2018, the Bethel AME garden has grown almost 4,000 pounds of lettuce, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, and other produce, which have been distributed to church members and donated to local food banks. In addition, Ardmore Victory Gardens helps community members cultivate their own home gardens by providing guidance, seedlings, tools, and assistance building planting beds.
For Condon, it’s a far cry from growing up in New York City, where “most people don’t have the space to grow their own food,” they note wryly. As a student, Condon majored in anthropology and volunteered with the Haverfarm, the campus farm led by Madison Tillman ’18, that integrates issues relating to sustainable food, agriculture, and justice into the College’s academic and extracurricular life.
“I’m humbled and grateful to be doing this work,” Condon says of the position with Ardmore Victory Gardens. “Working with the Bethel AME Church congregation and members of the Victory Gardens program has been an incredible learning experience.”
While supporting access to fresh produce for Ardmore residents, Condon’s fellowship also underscores the College’s relationship to Ardmore’s Black community, which borders the east side of campus near the College Lane entrance and Duck Pond Trail. This historic Black neighborhood is one of the few minority enclaves in the predominantly white, affluent Main Line suburbs that include Haverford College.
Haverford’s engagement with its Ardmore neighbors goes back to at least 1964, when the Serendipity Day Camp was established on campus to provide an affordable summer camp experience for local kids, most of them Black. The seed for the camp was planted when student Max Bockol ’64 invited neighborhood children on campus to play sports; he became the camp’s first director the summer he graduated. (Bockol, a Philadelphia attorney, died in 2013.)
Although the camp had some pauses over the years, it has operated more or less regularly since its founding almost 60 years ago, and many students have worked as counselors. (Shuttered since the start of the pandemic, the camp is preparing to relaunch for summer 2023.)
Also among those who helped establish Serendipity Day Camp was Marilou Allen. Then an Ardmore neighbor, Allen would go on to become director of the College’s Women’s Center and 8th Dimension community outreach office. In 1984, she took on the additional role of director of the camp.
During her 34 years at Haverford, Allen was known for bridging some of the divides between the campus and neighborhood. After her death in 2017, the Marilou Allen Office of Service and Community Collaboration was named for her. A year later, the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship convened a group of faculty members and Ardmore community leaders to discuss shared concerns, opportunities, and understanding of campus-community relationships.
The relationships seeded there led Reverend Carolyn Cavaness, pastor of Ardmore’s Bethel AME Church since 2014, to connect community leaders with the College in 2019 to talk about a divide that’s been in place for decades—a stretch of chain-link fence along the east side of campus that borders Ardmore’s Black neighborhood, the only such fence along Haverford’s property line. Some on campus and in the community have expressed concerns over the years that the fence was racially motivated and intended to discourage people from entering from that side of campus.
This spring, those issues became part of Associate Professor of Religion Molly Farneth’s seminar, “Religious Organizing for Racial Justice,” which looks at the role of multi-religious organizations, coalitions, and movements in the struggle for racial justice in the United States.
For the class, Farneth’s students worked on a semester-long project to talk to community and campus leaders and residents about the fence and the general appearance along that campus border. Students employed the tools of community organizing that are often used by faith-based groups, such as holding one-on-one meetings and sharing stories and forging emotional connections with those they interviewed. The students were essentially putting into practice what they were learning about community organizing.
After many individual and group interviews, and after consulting with Haverford Arboretum Director Claudia Kent, the students developed both short-term and longer-term plans to make the fenced border a more welcoming, accessible, and aesthetically pleasing entrance to the College.
Some of the options they proposed include a new split-rail fence, improved landscaping, and possibly some shared-use space such as a community garden or park. The message, Farneth says, is “this isn’t a back-door entrance to the College; we value our neighbors.”
The students have presented their findings to President Wendy Raymond and Dean John McKnight Jr., and Farneth says she is optimistic that “something will come out of it” to improve the border on that side of campus. (Note: since this article was first published in the spring/summer issue of Haverford magazine, a new, redesigned fence and entryway has been unveiled.)
The value of the students’ work, however, goes beyond just the fenced area, Farneth says. “A long-term goal is to continue to build relationships and create more spaces and events that bring the campus together with the community,” she says.
In fact, a number of new College initiatives have helped bring together the campus and its Black neighbors. On April 9, Haverford hosted its inaugural THRIVE Conference: From Harm to Healing.
In part a response to the student strike in fall 2020 calling for improvements in Haverford’s antiracism efforts, THRIVE (Truth, Healing, Resiliency, Inclusion, and Equity) was announced last year by President Raymond to foster sustainable change through dialogue and constructive engagement.
At the April event, organized by the Dean’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, participants addressed issues of racial trauma and regeneration. Rev. Cavaness, the Bethel AME Church pastor, conducted a workshop on “Ardmore and Its Complicated History,” discussing the town’s history of racial and class division and how educational institutions, such as local high schools and Haverford College, have contributed to that.
“A lot of that is acknowledging, ‘I’m here and you’re here, how can we work together?’” Cavaness says in an interview. As an example, she points out that many Haverford students serve as tutors at the Bethel Academy, an after-school learning program for local youths.
By connecting with Haverford leaders, faculty, and staff, Cavaness says the relationship between the College and the community has grown better over time. “There’s a lot more to be done,” she says, “but it’s a lot better than when I came here.”
For instance, last fall, 22 students in the course “Place, People, and Praxis in Environmental Studies” conducted oral history interviews to learn about and share the experiences of neighbors in Ardmore’s Black community.
The course was taught by Associate Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies Joshua Moses, whose students interviewed people involved with the Ardmore Victory Gardens about their lives, their neighborhood, and their gardening experiences. The interviews were posted online and printed in a small “zine” to share with community members.
“I think it’s tremendous for the students to walk around the neighborhood and get a wider sense of where we’re located and who’s right behind the fences,” says Moses. “And it’s motivating for students to do work that extends beyond the classroom, particularly for environmental studies majors who want to feel their work matters, that something is at stake.”
The project was celebrated at the end of the fall 2021 semester at a campus event for students and community members. Moses got feedback that neighbors felt valued and respected through working with students on this project, and he hopes that doors will continue to open between Haverford and its neighbors.
“It should be a given that we’re good neighbors and the campus is open and supportive of the well-being of the surrounding community,” he says.
The interviews will be preserved as part of the Lutnick Library Ardmore Oral History Archive, according to College Archivist and Records Manager Elizabeth Jones-Minsinger, who helped support the project with resources and expertise, including advising students on how to conduct oral histories and ensure that people are comfortable with the information they are sharing.
The plan is for the library to archive and preserve the interviews as part of its overall mission to preserve institutional history, she says. “Haverford doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s embedded in a larger community. Haverford is a neighbor, and it’s important we capture that history.”
In another new initiative that began in the spring semester, four students participated in a community-based work-study program that allowed them to earn their financial aid work-study salaries, paid by Haverford, at local nonprofits instead of at on-campus jobs.
The program allowed Jalexie Urena ’25, for example, to work at Bethel AME, helping out with a variety of tasks that included updating the church website, doing data collection, and staffing community events.
“I’m really excited to be able to give back to the community,” Urena says. “I think it develops a mutually beneficial relationship between Ardmore and the College, and people in need in the community receive extra help. It feels like a win-win situation.”
Emily Johnson, coordinator for the Marilou Allen Office of Service and Community Collaboration, who manages the program, agrees. “It’s great work experience for students and addresses gaps in equity for those who want to pursue volunteer work at nonprofit organizations but cannot afford to give up their campus jobs.”
More than 25 students expressed interest in working at community nonprofits during the first semester of the program, Johnson says, and she expects that the program will grow in the future.
“Our community partners love the program,” Johnson says. “It’s just a tremendous investment in our students and our local Ardmore community.”
With a number of new initiatives in place and plans that are being formulated as part of the Strategic Planning Process, the College is working to strengthen connections in ways that benefit both the campus and local communities.
Eric Hartman, executive director of Haverford’s Center for Peace and Global Citizenship, who has helped facilitate some of the recent campus-community initiatives, says the overarching question might be: “How do we at Haverford continue to build a more inclusive community between the campus and community, based on strengths we have?”
“Haverford is an anchor institution as an Ardmore neighbor,” Hartman says. “Though it’s vital to think broadly and globally, people can make a difference in the places where they are and through the depth of relationships immediately adjacent to campus.”