Don’t Complain, Give Kids A Treat

Susan MacDougall

By Susan MacDougall

Northwestern students are gifted in many ways, and one of those is complaining. The lack of “community” is a favorite topic of complaint, particularly on the Forum page. (Thank you, Daily, for providing the opportunity for us to band together in our discontent.) But one of the downsides of being as talented as we all are (ahem) is that we often forget to look at our strengths.

One of the gems of NU’s student programming is Project Pumpkin, coming up Oct. 26. Project Pumpkin is a Halloween party for children of Evanston and North Chicago that includes trick-or-treating, a haunted house and activity booths that feature bobbing for apples, manicures, floor hockey and innumerable other games. Northwestern Community Development Corps organizes the event, but the students that really make it possible come from every corner of our campus.

Fraternities and sororities run booths, OASIS designs the (very scary) haunted house and more than 150 chaperones are gathered from responses to a staggering number of flyers and Internet mailing list messages. Even chemistry Prof. Eberhard Zwergel helps out by putting on a slime show for the kids.

Most of the children who come to Project Pumpkin could not enjoy trick-or-treating the same way that you might remember enjoying it. Trick-or-treating in a low-income neighborhood in Chicago would hardly be an experience worthy of nostalgia. But, thanks to the commitment of the many NU students who work to make Project Pumpkin a possibility, our guests can act like children on Halloween. I think one word for this would be “community.”

Furthermore, the relationships that drive Project Pumpkin aren’t around only at Halloween. The more than 800 children who flood Norris University Center every October come from places such as the Evanston/Skokie District 65 public schools, Christopher House and Youth Organizations Umbrella – organizations that are practically in our backyard. And why do these reputable community organizations trust a bunch of wild college students to entertain the children in their custody? Because dedicated NU students volunteer at these sites throughout the year. The relationships volunteers build with these groups reinforce the widely held belief that NU students can and do help out. All our press in Evanston isn’t bad, despite assertions to the contrary.

So what is community, anyway? In its most narrow definition, it’s just a group of people living in the same place. The people who lament its absence, though, aren’t referring to mere geographical proximity. They are talking about the tendency of those people who happen to be in the same place to look toward each other to improve the quality of life for everyone. (Those of you reading Robert Putnam would call it “building social capital.”) Project Pumpkin is a touching example of a community bringing together groups of many different niches to create something that would not be possible without each of them.

So whether you are a skeptic of the community at NU or not, please consider helping with Project Pumpkin. It’s on Thursday in Norris from 4 to 6 p.m. It might not impress you, and then you can feel free to join the chorus of complainers on the Forum page. But if it does impress you, you might find yourself volunteering further, and before you know it you’ll be the one lecturing other students on community.

NCDC New Initiatives Chairwoman Susan MacDougall is a SESP senior. She can be reached at [email protected]