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The "Making Healthy Music Program"

(Model for the Vision Council)

     The Vision Council is unique. There are few programs now in existence which could operate as a complete model to work from. Generally, the issues of social revitalization and the use of technology by the community are not often discussed in the same arena. However, there are some projects which may add reinforcement to the Vision Council's potential value, function and purpose. For example, there is a program well underway in Newark, New Jersey which is successfully utilizing a telecommunications network as a tool for social resurgence. The Newton Street Elementary School is located in the middle of the central ward of Newark. This is an area which gained national attention in the summer of 1967 when both Detroit and Newark suffered racial riots(Tindall & Shi p.1355). Much of the housing in the area was destroyed. The New Community Corporation, which was formed in the late 1970's, provided needed social services including new low income housing. As a result the New Community Housing now completely encompasses the Newton Street School community(Morgan). "Another unique feature about the location of the Newton Street School is that the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey's Newark campus is directly across the street"(Morgan). This location proved to be ideal for a project not unlike the Vision Council.

     In the spring of 1994 the Office of Computer Education and Technology of the Newark Public Schools, under the directorship of Angela Caruso, applied for and subsequently received a Telecommunications Information Infrastructure Assistance Program (TIAP) grant from the National telecommunications Information Agency (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce(Morgan). The grant funds were provided to enable the installation of a community computer network. The main objective of the Newark Public School system was to "raise student achievement by helping to improve the delivery of primary health care and to improve the quality of life for community residents"(Morgan).

     Just as the Vision Council purposes to insure equal access to all its members, the Newton Street School project, or the "Making Healthy Music" (MHM) program as it was then named, has a multitude of service locations. The network is comprised of computers placed in homes, social service offices, the public library, Newton Street School, Newark Public Schools central office, an area church, and at the University of Medicine and Dentistry(Morgan).

     Another similarity between the MHM and the Vision council is the capacity to communicate in many different ways. The MHM project uses software which allows users to communicate in one of four ways: "real-time chats, e-mail, general postings, or by threaded discussion groups"(Morgan). This will allow users to build relationships and connections with a variety of people and service providers on many different levels. The participants of MHM have access to doctors at the University of Medicine and Dentistry who have pledged their support. However, the participation of the physicians is not meant to provide curative support, rather they provide educational and preventative information for the users(Morgan). The desired effect of MHM program is similar to the Vision Councils' goal of improving relationships within the community. Where the Vision Council wants to increase constructive communication between the community and public officials, the MHM program wants to connect the community to medical personnel. The MHM program is trying to develop healthy lifestyles and urge the community to seek medical help in the times of illness, rather than using the emergency room as the source of primary care(Morgan).

     Quite possibly the most essential part of each of these exciting vehicles of community empowerment is a strong collaborative force behind the development and continuous growth of the programs. For the MHM program, a strong relationship was formed between "the Newton St. School administration, the Office of Computer Education and Technology of the Newark Public Schools, the New Community Corporation and the office of the dean at the New Jersey Medical School"(Morgan). The list goes on and includes a myriad of advisors, committee members, interested residents and many more community groups and organizations which have brought their rich resources to the MHM program. For the Vision Council to be successful, the same types of intense collaborative relationships must be formed.

     Though the focus of these two programs may be different, the capacity for change and transition with the needs of the community is quite the same. The MHM program is not strictly interested in connecting the community to medical personnel. An important goal for both programs is to work with the changing needs of the community and to come up with the answers to the changing problems. Problems and needs come with varying intensity. The MHM program has successfully created activities to meet some of the different needs. On-line activities for the MHM program have ranged from organizing community talent shows to the development of a crime watch program. "A security watch program is developing where participants are working in conjunction with the Newark Police department and the New Community Security force to develop strategies to combat crime in the community"(Morgan). The list of activities initiated by the MHM program goes on and includes discussion groups on AIDS and other venereal diseases, parenting, community based photography classes, and the process of refining the scholastic content of education.

     The basic conclusion to be drawn from an analysis of both the Vision Council project and the MHM program is simply that we as a society are faced with many problems, and programs like the Vision Council may prove to be effective tools to help solve them. These programs are attempting to use technology as a way to enable us to combat the problems facing our communities, and improve the quality of life for urban residents.

     The Vision Council has a long road ahead. Representatives from the Council are aware of the difficulties that may arise as the project develops, but they continue to reach toward their goal of increasing "the power of the people," and the momentum of community development.

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