Lead-tainted soil among targets as students gear up for annual day of service in South Bend

Author: Erin Blasko

Back The Bend

University of Notre Dame students will help spread mulch, rehabilitate homes, paint fire hydrants and lay bricks, among other tasks, as part of Back the Bend, an annual service event involving students from Notre Dame and other local colleges and universities.

This year’s event will take place April 14 (Saturday) with an opening ceremony at 10 a.m. on the Irish Green on campus and a closing picnic at 3 p.m. at the Robinson Community Learning Center. The workday will run from 11 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.

Students will complete 17 service projects in total, joining with more than a dozen local community organizations and the city of South Bend to improve and beautify the city and engage with local residents.

Among other things, the students will help to spread mulch in the Near Northwest Neighborhood, where recent testing revealed elevated levels of lead in some children, in collaboration with the Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc. and faculty from the Eck Institute for Global Health who have been researching the issue with the city, NNN and county health department for more than a year.

Back The Bend

Many of the homes in the Near Northwest Neighborhood date to the early to mid-20th century when lead was common in paint and gasoline, and the soil in the area is toxic in places as a result — particularly around the foundations of homes with lead-based exterior paint.

The mulch, provided by the city of South Bend, will help to prevent the spread of such soil to places where children play, reducing exposure to the toxin and the likelihood of associated health risks, including premature birth and developmental delays in newborns and young children.

The work, which organizers are calling “Mulch Madness,” will coincide with Adopt-A-Block, an annual cleanup event in the Near Northwest Neighborhood. Organizers hope to mulch more than 200 homes.

The students will also help to prepare Kelly Park for Arbor Day; paint the inside of the historic Mills House and the amphitheater at Leeper Park; clean up Bowman Creek, a tributary of the St. Joseph River; clear the interior of the historic Kizer House; and visit homebound seniors, among other tasks.

In addition, members of Student Government will lead local seniors on a tour of Notre Dame, including the Grotto, Main Building and Basilica, and Indiana University South Bend by bus.

Back the Bend is an effort by Notre Dame Student Government to encourage lasting relationships between students and the community via collective action to improve the quality of life and place in South Bend. As many as 600 students have participated in the event in the past.

“Back the Bend is important to us because it provides the student body with a phenomenal opportunity to learn about the South Bend community and to forge relationships with community members and organizations while engaging in direct, impactful service,” said Adam Moeller, director of community engagement and outreach for Notre Dame Student Government.

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said, “We’re excited to once again bring Back the Bend to our community. And while the projects on April 14 will be a boost to South Bend, we’re creating many opportunities all year round for Notre Dame students to contribute their time and talents.”

Among other things, students recently collaborated with the city on a concept for a community technology center. They also tutor and mentor children in the community, assist low-income residents with legal problems and analyze data to improve local government and save taxpayer money.

This is the ninth consecutive year for Back the Bend, formerly known as CommUniversity Day. The event was renamed in 2015 in honor of South Bend’s sesquicentennial.

In addition to the Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc. and city of South Bend, partners for this year’s event include Indiana Landmarks, the Notre Dame Center For Arts and Culture, the Northeast Neighborhood, the Neighborhood Resources Connection, the Robinson Community Learning Center, Rebuilding Together, South Bend Venues Parks and Arts, Unity Gardens, the Bowman Creek Educational Ecosystem, Real Services, Downtown South Bend Inc. and the Center for the Homeless.

For more information or to register for the event, visit backthebend.nd.edu.

Contact: Erin Blasko, assistant director of media relations, 574-631-4127, eblasko@nd.edu