GARY | University professors and presidents danced with neighborhood children and residents Saturday afternoon at what organizers hope will be an annual block party at Indiana University Northwest.
Earl Jones, associate professor of African-American studies in the school of public and environmental affairs at IUN, organized the Community Development Meet and Greet Party at 35th and Jefferson avenues.
"We want people to know, especially the teens and little kids, that this university on their block and Ivy Tech on the corner are your universities, not someone else's," Jones said. "This is one of the few places in the country where you have this kind of access."
Kids lined up to get their pictures taken in front of firetrucks from the Gary and Lake Ridge fire departments as IUN students performed beat poetry. Others spent time visiting with neighbors and meeting university leaders and students over the meal provided at the event.
Alexis Spencer, of Gary, attended the block party with her three young children.
"It's very important that the kids are able to do things that are beneficial to their futures right here in Gary," Spencer said. "I want them to be able to play in the park, mingle, make friends and go to parties like this to see people coming together."
Before the party, students in Jones' community development class, members of the Brother 2 Brother student organization at IUN and the Ivy Tech groups Latino Male Initiative and African-American Male Initiative participated in the sixth annual Earth Day cleanup along 35th Avenue between IUN and Ivy Tech.
Students from Purdue University Calumet in Hammond participated as well.
"We're trying to build a Northwest Indiana community of colleges and doing community service is a great way to bring everyone together," said Marlon Mitchell, president of Ivy Tech.
Joel Perez, 23, of East Chicago, is studying biology at IUN and participated in Saturday's events.
"I do believe the community could be better, especially because we do have a university here in the heart of the city," Perez said. "This is just one step in giving back but I'm hoping it's a first step."
"It's a great way to say thank you, we're here and we're part of the community."