Belmont launched two programs this month through new grants offered to faculty to take on collaborative community efforts to tackle social problems.
The Belmont Accelerator for Social Innovation Collaboration grants, first announced in June, provided $40,000 to two programs aimed at Edgehill and Antioch.
The programs aren’t entirely new efforts. Amy Crook, Belmont’s vice president for transformative innovation, character and purpose, said the goal is to work with existing community efforts and organizations to help them scale and thrive in serving their communities.
“The BASIC initiative as a whole is about really allowing Belmont faculty and staff to use their expertise to enrich the lives of our neighbors,” Crook said.
In Edgehill, Belmont faculty members working in social work, education and community relations will work with Carter Lawrence Elementary School’s Extended Learning program, the United Way Edgehill Family Resource Center, Salama Urban Ministries and The Store, among others, to pilot an extended learning and family support initiative for the program.
The program will target 25 students and families, and it’s already underway, with the community organizations, school and Belmont faculty members already working to identify students in need.
Crook said the school was glad to serve the Edgehill community, which sits north of the campus, in what she called a battle against intergenerational poverty.
The program will bring a variety of enrichment programs, covering academics, arts and athletics, as well as community empowerment nights, which will give families the opportunity to learn more about and discuss topics relevant to them, Crook said.
Those can include anything from health and wellness to career development, she added. Ideally, they’ll be able to serve students and parents through those nights, she said.
In Antioch, Belmont faculty are stepping away from schools and focusing on the area’s refugee and immigrant community alongside The Branch of Nashville, which is aiming, with their help, to provide “more than just food” to the community.
John Gonas, associate professor of finance at Belmont, said he identified the need for additional support in Antioch because of people he knows at The Branch of Nashville, a local food bank, who told him they’d be interested in working together to scale up their services.
Gonas said the work they do in the program is meant to be sustainable. They hope more people will take an interest as they grow the programs and will help continue those efforts in the future.
There are opportunities right now in Antioch to help, he said.
The Branch has a volunteer sign-up page on its website to help people get involved with food service operations. The more people are involved, the faster it can think about scaling into other services.
Gonas said they, alongside other organizations like Antioch United Methodist Church, are looking for ways to provide English literacy and nutrition education, workforce development, citizenship access, health care options and more to people who come to The Branch, which serves over 5,000 refugees and immigrants each month.
They also want to create a community center for refugees and immigrants in the area to find one another and build a community spirit that can be hard to come by in a foreign country, he said.
Overall, they hope to help community members better access resources and learn the skills they need to take their lives back into their own hands.
“They want to get on the first rung of the ladder; they just don’t know how to get there,” Gonas said. They intend to help change that.
Crook said Belmont will likely launch two more programs through the BASIC initiative this year, with even more to come in the future.
Some proposals from faculty members haven’t yet attached to community partners, so she said she’d encourage community organizations to reach out if they’d be interested in working together.
She said they will host community showcases in the future to talk about what those projects are and find organizations working toward the same goal.
She added she hopes that as more programs start and make headway on their projects, the impacts on the community will help the university spread the 2021 school year motto: “Let hope abound.”