WKU Hill House commemorates its community’s improvement

From left, Breyna Price of Louisville, McKinze Willlard of Mount Washington, Keira Martin of Louisville and Omega Bucker of Louisville live together in the Hill House. The Hill House is a graduate program designed to spur positive change by combining the students’ academics with local community development. Katie Roberts/HERALD

Madison Martin

On the corner of High and 11th sits what used to be a notorious cop-stop but is now a home that encourages community enhancement.

After six successful years of neighborhood partnership, the WKU Hill House, a residence for graduate assistants through the ALIVE Center, will have its Open House and Proclamation Signing this Friday, Sept. 18.

President Gary Ransdell and Bowling Green Mayor Bruce Wilkerson will be in attendance to declare Community Partnerships Day for the city and for WKU. The afternoon will include a tree-planting ceremony and will be open to neighbors, WKU students and anyone interested in celebrating.

“We don’t need to be on the WKU homepage, [and] we don’t need anybody to pat us on the back. That’s not why we’re doing this,” Hill House graduate assistant and Mt. Washington native McKinze Willard said. “We’re doing this for our neighbors, and we want them to know that they are important and that this place is important.”

In 2005, the previous tenants perpetuated an environment of drugs and domestic abuse, Willard said. Concerned for the safety of his mother, who lived nearby, WKU alumnus Bob Basham bought the house, remodeled it and asked WKU if it could be used to create a positive change in the neighborhood.

The ALIVE Center decided to create an opportunity for up to four graduate assistants to live in the House, where they could connect with neighbors and partner with organizations to help revitalize the area.

“We want our community members to feel pride in their neighborhood,” Willard said.

Willard and two other graduate assistants now live in the Hill House. Also living there is a graduate assistant who works with Bonner Leaders, another program within the ALIVE Center.

One of the things Willard wants to focus on is the ongoing partnership with the area’s Neighborhood Association. She hopes the organization can put on a successful event for the neighborhood and become more structured with bylaws and a purpose statement. 

“We want [our community members] to be proud of the work that they’re doing. We want them to be invested in the neighborhood, and that, in turn, will foster kind of a sense of protecting,” Willard said.

Lauren Cunningham, community engagement coordinator who oversees the Hill House, said graduate assistants played an important part in revitalizing the once-dormant association.

Cunningham works closely with the graduate assistants. She relocated to the neighborhood not far from the Hill House to foster the belief that one must live inside an area to help it effectively.

“It’s developing community from within, and you being a part of a community makes it easier but also holds you more … accountable,” Cunningham said. “Because you’re not talking about someone else’s community and what you all need to do; it’s what we need to do.”

To become better acquainted with their neighbors, the graduate assistants publish and distribute a monthly newsletter called the Neighborhood Network News, which lists upcoming events and spotlights one of the neighbors.

Cunningham and another graduate assistant, Keira Martin, created a program for the nearby alternative school, The Academy at 11th Street, called Project LIFE: Leadership Independence Freedom Empowerment.

The program works with students on lessons targeting topics like self-efficiency, academic excellence and career exploration. This year, the graduate assistants plan to add another component to the program to connect students with mentors from the community or WKU’s campus.

Hill House graduate assistant and Louisville native Omega Buckner will be taking a community assets inventory that surveys members of the community regarding their skills sets and interests:

“Through this asset-based approach, what I hope happens for the community is they recognize each other’s strengths, skills and can be empowered through this and encouraged to create something of their own.

“If there’s somebody in the community who gardens, and there are people who want to learn how to do gardening, we can start a gardening club,” Buckner said.

The Hill House will offer other events throughout the fall and spring semesters for community members. These events include the upcoming W.I.T.C.H. (Wise Ideas Targeting the Community for Halloween) Project in October, which provides a safe alternative for families during the spooky season.

“If students want to be involved with the Hill House specifically, I would love to see students come to our events,” Willard said.

The Open House and Proclamation Ceremony will occur at 741 E. 11th St. beginning at 3:30 p.m.