Good Neighbor Program eases transition makes off-campus living easier for Rutgers students

<p>In addition to teaching students about the off-campus resources that are available to them, the Rutgers Good Neighbor Program advocates for students that run into problems with independent living.</p>

In addition to teaching students about the off-campus resources that are available to them, the Rutgers Good Neighbor Program advocates for students that run into problems with independent living.

Rutgers' Good Neighbor Program, run by the Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships Office, aims to help students living off-campus by creating a cohesive off-campus student community.

Kerri Willson, the director of Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships, said the main goal of the department is to help students who are looking to move off-campus to learn what their rights are as tenants and their responsibilities are as community members.

“We educate students about living in the off-campus community, advocate for students who are running into issues and struggles (while) living in the off-campus community and we provide resources or support as they navigate more independent living as opposed to living in the residence halls,” she said.

Marisa Joel, a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore, lives on the College Avenue campus and said it is easier to do things when living on campus due to the proximity of resources, and that you can meet more people since you have a living community.

The students are at the mercy of their landlords when they live off-campus, she said. The landlords almost have a monopoly over what you do and what you pay, and it is hard to judge how the landlord is going to behave.

Moving off-campus is more of an independent living experience because students have to worry about budgeting, paying their rent and electricity bills, Willson said. The office prepares them for this experience through workshops.

“Some landlords in the local community are not providing what we expect them to provide to our students, thus these students are living in subpar conditions. The creation of this department helps students understand what their rights are as tenants and gets the landlords to recognize that there is a department advocating for these students and their rights,” Willson said.

The office has collaborated with the City of New Brunswick in community building efforts. It runs a program called "Team Up to Clean Up," aimed toward litter reduction in the City of New Brunswick, Willson said.

“The idea is that you are part of New Brunswick community, not just a guest here. We try to facilitate opportunities for our students to get involved and make a positive contribution," she said.

Community building also focuses on students recognizing that the apartment next door may have a family with children or grandparents. One has to be mindful of that when living off-campus, she said.

“Our department also covers faith exploration. There are priests, imams, ministers, spiritual leaders that are available so that students can meet with them and ask big questions about their lives as college students and about their faith or faith of others,” said Philip Chambers, associate director of Off-Campus Living and Community Partnerships.

Good neighbor liaisons are paid student staff, leaders of the community. They live off-campus and point their resources and assistance to off-campus students, he said.

“Whether it is knocking on the door, giving out information, email blasts or programs and events, they are all targeted to the off-campus community,” Chambers said.

The programming efforts are aimed towards the students living in New Brunswick, Highland Park, Piscataway and Edison. but the majority of the students live in the New Brunswick region, he said.

The office held Good Neighbor Welcome Walks in the beginning of the fall semester. These walks serve as an introduction to the neighborhood, Chambers said.

“We passed down information, met with local politicians and met with local law enforcement. Professional representatives from various departments came to visit when we walked the neighborhood," he said.

Chambers said these walks were aimed at ensuring that students were moving in alright and they did not have any major complaints from the neighborhood since they are not aware of the surroundings when they move in. They encourage community component and community interactions in the beginning of the year.

The office also runs Rutgers food pantry for students who are struggling with food insecurity and provides online resources for finding an apartment, he said. Any student, not necessarily an off-campus student, can get involved with the food pantry and community service initiatives.

It also collaborated with the Office for Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance, the Dean of Students and Student Legal Services which takes care of the safety issues and disputes, Chambers said.

These resources help students take these worries off the table and focus on their academics. Hence, the department encourages more students to register so that they can keep track of the off-campus community and provide assistance, he said.

“We have a holistic approach. We want to take care of the basic needs that our off-campus community have," Chambers said. "For example, food, shelter, water are safety are some of the basic needs that need to be addressed to be able to achieve what they want academically."

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