Get to know the PNLV staff: Elena De Santis

Elena HeadshotElena De Santis is a Community Fellow at Lehigh University working with PNLV for the Bethlehem Promise Neighborhood. For the past several months she’s been doing research on the Bethlehem community and is now presenting her findings in a series of Public Meetings being held in March and April. Learn more about her and her work here.

• Tell us briefly about your fellowship position at Lehigh University and what it’s about/what it involves.

The Community Fellows program is an alternative to the traditional Master’s degree program at Lehigh University. Instead of completing the more conventional graduate paper, Community Fellows work part-time with a local nonprofit for their tenure as graduate students. Our work focuses on completing projects identified by local nonprofit agencies. This community-based work provides a more experiential and practical complement to Lehigh’s Master’s programs, and is an excellent way of integrating academic material with the larger Lehigh Valley community.

• How did you first become aware of PNLV and the work it is doing to establish a BPN?

When choosing a fellowship, Kim Carrell-Smith (Director of the Community Fellows Program) presents each fellow with proposals from agencies that align well with the fellow’s educational and career goals. With respect to the fellowship I would eventually choose, I really wanted to be involved in something directly, rather than sit behind a desk and manage paperwork. Kim had thrown out Promise Neighborhood’s name briefly, but it was instantly a concept I wanted to know more about. As a Brooklyn native, I have seen the tremendously positive effects that commitment to the success of each child in a neighborhood can have. This was definitely something I could envision succeeding throughout the Lehigh Valley, and something that I definitely wanted to be a part of.

• How long did the BPN research take to complete, and what did you find most interesting about it?

The BPN research was really interesting, and I can safely say that I can spew out statistics about Bethlehem more than I ever thought I would be able to. The preliminary research took me a few months to complete. However, arriving at the final version of the presentation took some more time, since it was tweaked and enhanced a lot by the Bethlehem Community Collaborative (BCC). The BCC brought a variety of opinions to the table, all from different stakeholders in the Bethlehem community. This allowed me to include the most up to date information from the most credible of sources. What began to stand out over time, and what I continue to find most interesting, is the sheer size and diversity among Bethlehem’s communities.

• What can a member of the Bethlehem community learn at one of the BPN Public Meetings?

At a BPN Public Meeting, a resident can receive a pretty thorough overview of the situation in Bethlehem as it pertains to demographics, education, safety and stability, economy, and health. Besides the data shown in presentation, our most valuable information comes through a post-presentation discussion. This discussion focuses on strengths and areas of potential improvements in Bethlehem, as well as what promises we should focus on and where we should eventually locate a Promise Neighborhood in Bethlehem. When high school student, an executive director, a grandparent, and a community activist are together in one room, and hear the same information, some incredible discussion can occur. This is where we get a lot of information on Bethlehem from those who know Bethlehem best, and what we find most valuable in our BPN Public Meeting experiences.

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