The grass isn’t greener on our side of the fence

Raynor Denitzio

Most people have probably never heard the name Kiesha Wilkins, and I’ll admit that I hadn’t either until I wrote this column. Wilkins’ life was not particularly remarkable, but her death and what it represents are. Wilkins was Philadelphia’s 406th and final homicide victim in 2006. Wilkins, 31, was found murdered in her apartment in North Philadelphia on Dec. 30. Her death was a fitting end to 2006, the bloodiest year in Philadelphia in a decade.

Just 20 miles removed from the mansions and manicured lawns of Villanova’s Main Line setting, Philadelphia is falling apart. The city seems unable even to ensure the safety of its citizens. What is worse, things do not appear to be getting better any time soon. Since falling to a low of 288 in 2002, the trend in homicides has been upward, with 330 recorded in 2004 and 380 in 2005. Recent data also estimates the high school drop-out rate in the city to be 38 percent. Factor in that the city has nearly 1.5 million residents and that nearly a quarter has less than a fifth grade education, and the picture is bleak.

One of the things we pride ourselves on at Villanova is our service, and rightfully so. Special Olympics weekend is one of the highlights of the year, and each break dozens of students give up the comfort of home to travel to impoverished areas throughout the country (and world) on Habitat and mission trips. But perhaps, instead of spending thousands of dollars to take a plane to South Africa or Southeast Asia, we could hop on a bus to South Philly and tackle the poverty in our own back yard.

This is not meant as a condemnation of those who participate in these trips. In fact, it is their spirit of giving that is so desperately needed in large amounts. Villanova students do many good things throughout the world. But what if we turned our attention to places such as Philadelphia and Chester? The University already has many wonderful programs in Philadelphia and the surrounding area, among them the Bigs and Littles mentoring program that pairs a Villanova student with an at-risk youth. The University also offers many tutoring, ministry and weekend Habitat for Humanity trips.

Charity starts at home. Over the years, Villanova students have shown that they are more than willing to donate their time, talents and money to helping those less fortunate. Now, our neighbors need our help. The homicide problem may be beyond our abilities, but the problems of illiteracy, inadequate housing and a lack of positive role models for Philadelphia’s young people are not. Each year, thousands of young, intelligent, motivated students pass through Villanova. Imagine what we could achieve if we turned our attention toward our neighbors just a few miles down the road. Through a University collaboration with Catholic Social Services, the Center for Literacy or any of the otherlocal social service providers, Villanova could make a real difference. What’s more, this service would not be limited to a week, but could be part of a larger commitment to service. Many Villanova students rank their experiences with Habitat for Humanity as life-changing. Imagine if you could feel that way for four years.

It may take time, and it may not be a cure-all. But we need to do something before another generation of Philadelphia residents grows up to become chalk outlines. It may not be as glamorous as a trip to South Africa, but it is equally as important.


Raynor Denitzio is a senior political science major from Scotch Plains, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]