On Wednesday, April 15, 2015, a Mears busload of Valencia employees from the West Campus took part in a half-day field trip organized by City of Orlando’s Director of Urban Development Walter Hawkins. The tour, “Pathways for Parramore Community Experience” gave campus leaders an opportunity to personally experience the Parramore District and its residents as the College considers how it will be an effective community partner as the Creative Village project comes to fruition and community revitalization projects take shape.
Notably, Falecia shared that it will be imperative that Valencia be “of the community, not just in the community,” if the College is to have the positive impact that it can.
The tour included block-by-block walking stops at the following places located within the community in addition to a narrated windshield tour of the community’s history:
- Dr. J.B. Callahan Neighborhood Center
- Sunlife Grocery Store
- Parramore Community Garden
- Fresh Stop Mobile Market
- Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Institutional Church
- Coalition for Homeless of Central Florida Men’s Service Center
- Harvest Baptist Christian Academy
The group heard from Parramore residents regarding the boundaries, barriers, hopes and concerns that often accompany gentrification, namely displacement of the residents and its culture.
“Having lived in Orlando for 30 years, there were both inspirational and sad moments as we toured the Parramore district,” said West Campus Dean of Science Bob Gessner. “Meeting some of the residents, who spoke with us at two small local churches, the Callahan Neighborhood Center, the Parramore Community Garden and the new Coalition for the Homeless Men’s Service Center, gave me hope that the Parramore district has passionate supporters working to see that the district thrives, even as Orlando’s downtown and the Creative Village expand into the district.”
Dean of Engineering, Computer Programming and Technology Lisa Macon found the experience eye opening.
“It was deeply meaningful to walk in the footsteps of those who have grown and led this community through its history. Getting to step onto the Fresh Stop Mobile Market and learning about how healthy food options are not readily available to Parramore residents gave me goosebumps. I was amazed and impressed with all that is accomplished by the Parramore Kids Zone staff with such meager resources, and what a difference they have made in so many peoples’ lives. The Coalition for the Homeless facilities were also staggering,” she said.
Professor of Nursing and President, West Campus Faculty Senate Ruby Alvarez succinctly shared a common take away echoed by many. “The tour was inspiring. It solidified my want to help in any way I can,” she said.
Much of the dialogue of the tour centered on ways that Valencia can increase its access points and create clearer pathways for Parramore residents to take advantage of Valencia’s myriad, cost-effective educational programs both for traditional and non-traditional students. Ensuring that Valencia is considered as a first option among this demographic for post-secondary education was also top of mind, as the group heard some of the perceptions that students have that lead them to choose other colleges and universities. A need to address under and unemployment, job skills development and access to stackable certificate programs that will help to increase workers’ wages was also discussed.
“The trip was definitely worthwhile, having seen all the potential that exists in the district,” Bob said. “I would hope the renaissance of Orlando’s downtown, including the Creative Village, would include the residents of the Parramore District. Harlem, in NYC, has been reborn and revitalized by the people and businesses that live there; it would be cool to see the same thing happen for the residents of the Parramore District,” he concluded.