Back the Bend: A Partnership Between Campus and the Community

Author: Gene Stowe

Back the Bend, launched eight years ago as CommUniversity Day and rebranded in honor of South Bend’s 2015 sesquicentennial, has accelerated personal, social, and intellectual engagement that unites the campus and the city. This year’s event, on April 8, features a host of projects from raking leaves and painting to sophisticated engineering initiatives that leverage students’ academic expertise.

“There’s ways for the students to give back with manual labor but also to use the skills they’re developing at Notre Dame,” says Jennifer Knapp Beudert, manager of the Robinson Community Learning Center. “It’s an initiative of the Student Government to get students out into the community and connecting with the community and giving back. It’s grown over the years to incorporate more community partners. It’s also including other schools now – Saint Mary’s, IU South Bend, and Holy Cross College.”

Student Government Director of Communications Caitlin Hodges, a senior American Studies major with a minor in Sustainability, has watched community relations flourish since she arrived four years ago from Paducah, Ky., excited to live in a far bigger city.

“From the very beginning, I was curious about the relationship, the intellectual side of engagement with South Bend,” says Hodges, who has participated in community-engaged research and volunteer activities every semester and works at the Center for Social Concerns.

More and more people, including whole departments, seek her advice about community-based thesis projects like her own study of art and urban planning in South Bend and similar cities; she’s no longer the only student on the bus back to campus from downtown; and two friends who graduated last year have stayed around.

Back the Bend is part of an ecosystem for such collaboration that includes ESTEEM, enFocus, and Food for Thought breakfasts led by Danielle Wood, assistant director for Community-Based Research and Impact at the Center for Social Concerns on campus and across town. The event can be a portal into longer-term projects and relationships.

“I think Back the Bend is a good opportunity to recruit underclassmen who will become familiar with other projects,” Hodge says. “Many Notre Dame freshmen and sophomores might be first introduced to community partners to work with while still on campus.”

Community partners with projects this year include the City of South Bend Public Works Department, Indiana Landmarks, the Neighborhood Resources Connection, the Northeast Neighborhood Council, the Notre Dame Center for Arts and Culture, Rebuilding Together, the Robinson Community Learning Center, Unity Gardens, and South Bend Venues, Parks, and Arts.

Back the Bend starts at 10 a.m. on Irish Green with t-shirt pickup. Most projects run from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with a picnic at Robinson Community Learning Center at 3 p.m. The center will offer a bus tour of the Notre Dame and Holy Cross during the day so community members have a chance to visit the campuses.

To browse Back the Bend opportunities and volunteer, visit backthebend.nd.edu. Participation is open to anyone from the community or the campus.

Back the BendNotre Dame students dig in to Back the Bend