Collaborating with Neighborhoods


Collaborating with Neighborhoods

Tracey Walterbusch
Ezra Baker

Ohio State University


In this article, we highlight why collaboration was integral to the improvement of Ohio State’s annual Community Commitment event and how it aided two departments to meet their goals. First, we provide overviews of the Community Commitment event, the two key collaborators, and the theoretical framework that guided this work. Then we reflect on the effectiveness of the event including assessment, provide key information about the collaboration, and discuss implications for the future.


Pay it Forward is a student cohort comprised of approximately 20 students. The goal of the program is to expose students to avenues of civic engagement through co-curricular service experiences (Pay it Forward, 2016). One of Pay It Forward’s flagship programs is Community Commitment, a single-day of service during the first week of classes in which over 1,000 students serve at more than 50 nonprofit organizations in the greater Columbus, Ohio area. Community Commitment is one of the largest single day service events on a college campus (Community Commitment, 2016).

Community Ambassadors are students who work in the off-campus area at Ohio State. The program was originally developed in January 2003 (OCSS Community Ambassadors, 2016). The goal of the program is to foster community in the off-campus neighborhoods at Ohio State. The university defines “off-campus” as the housing areas immediately adjacent to the university, where many students live within walking distance to campus. This off-campus area is 2.83 square miles, with 43,996 residents, 1,227 businesses, human service agencies, and institutions, and is comprised of apartments and houses where students, renters, and permanent residents live (The City of Columbus, 2016; University District Organization, 2016). Ohio State is home to a large, diverse population of students who represent many different backgrounds and perspectives. In order to effectively serve the needs of the community, the Community Ambassador program utilizes the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Astin & Astin, 1996) because of the model’s emphasis on working as a group toward a societal common good.

Theoretical Background

The Community Ambassador program relies upon the Social Change Model of Leadership Development in all collaboration and program development. The goal of the Social Change Model is to integrate previously established leadership models to create a framework for social change in individuals or the community (Astin & Astin, 1996). The model outlines student’s self-knowledge and leadership competence and examines leadership from three different perspectives: individual, group, and community (Astin & Astin, 1996). Individual development is defined as self-awareness and establishment of personal values; group development is defined with an emphasis on collaboration; and societal development focuses on the common good (Astin & Astin, 1996). Individual values include consciousness of self, congruence and commitment; group values include collaboration, common purpose and controversy with civility; and societal values focus on citizenship. The group values of collaboration and common purpose were of particular importance for the Community Commitment event. These values are also collectively referred to as the “7 C’s.”

On- and Off-campus Partners

In order to increase the reach of the Community Ambassador program, the Program Manager of Student Life’s Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement (OCCSE) department sought to work with colleagues across campus. One of these partners was the Program Coordinator of Service and Outreach within Ohio State’s Student Activities Department. During the summer of 2014, the OCCSE Program Manager and the Program Coordinator of Service and Outreach met to discuss avenues for potential collaboration. Since the goal of the Community Ambassadors is to reach students living off-campus and the goal of Community Commitment is to create service opportunities, each department saw an opportunity to work together.

The Program Coordinator for Service and Outreach shared that one of the most difficult parts of Community Commitment is accommodating a large number of Ohio State volunteers while not overwhelming community partners. Providing a one-day service event can be difficult because organizations may not have enough service opportunities to complete in just one day. Additionally, it can be difficult to provide a meaningful opportunity for reflection with each service opportunity.

Since community service within the off-campus area is in line with the Community Ambassadors’ mission, the two departments discussed adding an off-campus clean-up to Community Commitment. The goals of the clean-up included the following: to provide a service opportunity to all students who attend community commitment; to clean up the off-campus area; and to educate future student residents about the importance of maintaining a clean neighborhood. Additionally, the event allowed an opportunity for the Community Ambassadors to develop as a group and reflect on the problems of the off-campus area. The collaboration was most effective because it was mutually beneficial to both the Community Ambassador and Pay it Forward programs.

The two departments also invited community partners, campus partners, and students to discuss the prospective addition to Community Commitment. This one meeting provided an opportunity for all members of the community and neighborhood to provide feedback, insight, and offer services for the event. Many collaborators attended the meeting, including: Keep Columbus Beautiful, a community improvement plan and national affiliate of Keep America Beautiful; the University District Organization, a non-profit organization sponsored by Ohio State and the city to bring organizations together; Neighborhood Services and Collaboration, an Ohio State Student Life Department that worked with landlords in the off-campus community; and the Community Ambassadors themselves.

In this meeting, the Program Manager and Program Coordinator asked the partnering organizations and departments to share concerns about this day of service. One of these concerns was that the students were only serving their community for one day. During this meeting, the Program Manager and Program Coordinator emphasized the importance of empowering students to continue serving their communities after the Community Commitment event. A key part of the Social Change Model is citizenship, which demands that students are actively engaged in their community.

Making the Event Happen

In addition to the normal preparation for Community Commitment, the Program Coordinator of Service and Outreach worked with community partners, Community Ambassadors, and Pay it Forward Cohort members to develop the logistical framework for the event. Community Ambassadors worked to map out routes in the off-campus area and collaborated with partners such as Keep Columbus Beautiful to get materials for the off-campus clean-up including trash bags, gloves, and litter grabbers. During the Community Ambassador training, the Program Coordinator and members of the Pay It Forward Cohort provided training for the Community Ambassadors on the logistics of the event, key outcomes, and directions for running a guided reflection.  

On the day of the event, student volunteers attended pre-service training on the importance of keeping the off-campus community clean. The session provided student volunteers with logistical information and risk management information about the event. In addition, in this training students were provided space for pre-service reflection and learned about opportunities to continue their service involvement in the future. One of the Community Ambassadors spoke about his own experience as a resident in the off-campus community and the importance of taking care of one’s neighborhood. The Community Ambassadors each went to assigned streets with a group of three to five student volunteers.

The Community Ambassadors were encouraged to share their stories and their passion for the off-campus neighborhoods with their group during the clean-up. In this way, the event allowed each Community Ambassador to implement every domain of the Social Change Model: they used their own individual leadership, came together as a group, and provided service to the greater society.

Assessment and Reflection

After the clean-up, the Community Ambassadors led the students back to the Ohio Union. Over lunch, the students and Community Ambassadors reflected on their experiences in the off-campus neighborhoods. This allowed the students to discuss the common purpose by encouraging them to collectively evaluate the service project they completed and discuss working as a group to make change in society (Astin & Astin, 1996). As mentioned earlier, common purpose is one of the seven C’s defined within the Social Change Model (Astin & Astin, 1996). When the volunteers left, the Community Ambassadors met for the end of their training, which included a reflection for the Community Ambassadors. One volunteer commented, “it wasn’t until I was walking to campus this morning did I realize how much trash there was on the street.” The Community Ambassadors shared that they were more likely to pick up their own trash and recycling.

Generally, the volunteers for Community Commitment are first-year undergraduate students. Most of these students have not even walked to the off-campus area. At Ohio State, students generally move off campus after their second year living in the residence halls. Therefore, one of the outcomes of the events was increased awareness of the community in the off-campus area and the importance of caring for the neighborhood. Of the 21 students who attended the off- campus clean-up, 15 said they were more likely to pick up after themselves when they lived in the off-campus area.

Recommendations for Collaborations

The University District Organization and Keep Columbus Beautiful were specifically interested in this project and encouraged future collaboration on other off-campus clean-ups. This collaboration between university and city departments was integral to the success of this event. Collaboration can be tricky to navigate, and so the authors would like to provide some insight for future partnerships.

The Program Manager met with leaders across campus and created a collaborative framework that asked departments to reflect on the missions of both their own departments and their potential partnering office. After common goals of each office were identified, they then evaluated which programs in each department needed improvement. Many times departments felt that they must create a new event in order to collaborate with a different department. However, sometimes the best collaborations are adaptations and improvements to preexisting programs.

Second, it was important to invite all of the community partners to the table. Although it sometimes seemed overwhelming to have all members of the community join the meeting, it was important that they all had opportunities to give input and provide feedback. For example, one community partner recommended inviting permanent residents from the neighborhood to attend the Community Commitment event. Since it was the first year of the event, we chose to delay the invitation of neighborhood residents. However, we would recommend that it is always important to invite potential short-term and long-term partners to the planning stages of events and programs to get everyone on the same page.

Finally, a key part of this collaboration was the integration of student leaders. The Community Ambassadors and Pay it Forward student cohort members were given a chance to train one another and lead the development of this event. By integrating not just the professional staff but also the student leaders, the event ran more smoothly, provided professional development for the students, and led to future collaborations. Therefore, it was a benefit for all members involved; the event was more efficient and effective and the students received valuable leadership experience.

The event provided student leaders with an opportunity to engage with the Social Change Model of Leadership Development (Astin & Astin, 1996) at every stage. Student leaders reflected on their personal connection to the off-campus neighborhoods, rallied their small groups around a common purpose and helped society by cleaning up the neighborhoods inhabited by many of their peers. The Community Commitment collaboration has now continued for two years and the current staff in each department expect to continue the collaboration, which has grown to include a similar project on the Martin Luther King Day of Service which delivers winter wellness packages to residents of the off-campus area.

Discussion Questions

  1. With what office or neighborhood partners could your office create a partnership?  
  2. How do you start a conversation with an off campus partner?
  3. How could increased student involvement in programing aid in your success?

Astin, H. S., & Astin. A. (1996). Social change model of leadership development. College Park, MD: The National Clearinghouse of Leadership Programs.

Community Commitment (2016). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from Programs/community_commitment

OCCSS Community Ambassadors (2016). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from

Pay it Forward (2016). The Ohio State University. Retrieved from

The City of Columbus. (2016). Keep Columbus Beautiful. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from

University District Organization. (2016). Discover: University District. Retrieved September 7, 2016, from

About the Authors

Tracey Walterbusch is currently a Ph.D. student in the College of Education and Human Ecology with a concentration in Higher Education and Student Affairs at Ohio State University. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Economics from Ohio State University and her master’s degree in Counseling and Personnel Services from the University of Louisville. She has experience working at four higher education institutions within a variety of departments such as student activities, residence life, off campus and commuter services, and career counseling. During the time of this event, Tracey oversaw Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement, a department serving 80% of the student population including both commuters and off campus students.

Ezra Baker earned his bachelor’s degree in Economics and French from The Ohio State University in 2016. As an undergraduate student, Ezra also worked for three years for Off-Campus and Commuter Student Services (OCCSS, formerly Off-Campus and Commuter Student Engagement). He served in multiple roles in OCCSS including as a Community Ambassador and a Student Supervisor of the Community Ambassadors. As a Student Supervisor, Ezra played a critical role in planning and overseeing Community Commitment and other related service events. 

Please e-mail inquiries to Tracey Walterbusch or Ezra Baker.


The ideas expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the Developments editorial board or those of ACPA members or the ACPA Governing Board, Leadership, or International Office Staff.

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