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Grants help schools set up community outreach programs

September 3, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ From setting up utility-bargaining cooperatives to creating construction companies, universities are designing enterprising ways to aid distressed communities around them.

Andrew Cuomo, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, announced Wednesday that 25 colleges will receive $7.3 million in grants to fund community outreach programs.

``Very often universities are the greatest assets in their area. But for too long they have been isolated from the surrounding community,″ Cuomo said. ``We are looking at how you open the gates of the university to literally bring in the community.″

Sixteen of the grant recipients will receive about $400,000 each to implement new projects. The other nine will receive about $100,000 each to continue pre-existing programs.

New Hampshire College plans to set up cooperatives for consumers to negotiate with large utilities for better rates when statewide deregulation goes into effect July 1.

``We are concerned that deregulation is an easy thing to be confused about,″ said Michael Swak, director of the school’s community economic development program. ``These are people who, if they aren’t organized, ultimately end up paying a higher price than businesses which can negotiate a lower price.″

With its grant, the University of Rhode Island in Kingston will add computer classrooms to public housing projects, where faculty members will teach courses for tenants.

``When people come into class, they’re learning to read so it becomes a literacy program as well,″ said Marcia Marker Feld, professor of community planning at URI. ``There are a number of older people who want to learn to use computers because they’re lonesome. It’s a great way for them to reach out.″

At the University of North Carolina business school, teachers and students conceived of a plan to set up a construction company owned and staffed by low-income residents for contracts in their neighborhoods.

``We thought it was a nice collaboration to hire local residents to work on the rehabilitation in their neighborhoods and teach them skills to do work outside their neighborhood,″ said Bill Rohe, director of the school’s center for urban and regional studies.

Area residents will receive training in construction work and in business management. HUD money will fund the tools and equipment to get the company started.

The 25 grants were administered through HUD’s Community Outreach Partnership Centers initiative, created four years ago. The schools and community groups have matched the grants with $10 million.

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