This story originally appeared in the Shippensburg University Magazine.

Shippensburg University’s Kurt Dunkel ’98-’04M launched the Raider Neighbor program in the summer of 2020 to build stronger connections between SU students and the local community.

Raider Neighbor is partially funded by a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) grant and is modeled after other “good neighbor” programs common among several university communities. A good neighbor initiative refers to any activity organized to help to build a positive community culture and meet its program goals.

The Raider Neighbor program seeks to create positive relationships by reducing problems often associated with noise, litter, vandalism, assault and substance abuse.

Over the last year, the pandemic has limited the program’s ability to initiate social gatherings, but members of the Raider Neighbor team have used their creativity to come up with COVID-friendly initiatives: passing out resource and safety information, distributing masks and COVID-19 resources, community clean-ups, and finding ways to thank people for working so hard during the pandemic.

Dunkel considers the Raider Neighbor initiative “two-fold,” for while program activities are more regulated than usual, the pandemic has re-defined what it means to truly be a Raider Neighbor.

“One of the biggest aspects of being a good neighbor is understanding and respecting how your behavior can impact others—whether it be noise, litter, civility, respecting property, and valuing diversity of values and identities. I think COVID has, for all members of our university community, highlighted how important it is to respect others’ space, their health and well-being, their needs—be it physical, emotional, or mental health,” said Dunkel.

Given the COVID-19 ordinances that were in place, Dunkel believes Ship faculty, students, and staff have really stepped up as a community. He expressed, “any community is comprised of individuals and groups and I think the Ship community, collectively and individually, has been nothing short of amazing. It has been exhausting, but for many of us it’s a labor of love.”

Dunkel continued, “Ship students have been so impressive in the way they have come together to handle this pandemic. The energy, ideas, and positivity of the Raider Neighbor team has helped remind me of the resilience of Ship students.”

Raider Neighbor team members took part in a number of organized neighborly activities, like shoveling driveways during winter storms and community clean-ups, but Dunkel said he observed Ship students act like Raider Neighbors every day when they follow COVID-19 protocols, guidelines and policies. 

The light at the end of the tunnel grows clearer as the vaccine becomes increasingly available, but Dunkel remains optimistic that Ship will hold onto many of the good habits developed during the pandemic and continue to act as Raider Neighbors.

“As a Ship alum and employee, I have a lot of pride and faith in Shippensburg University. I think the community and neighborly spirit that has existed for 150 years will continue.”

Dunkel ’98-’04m emphasized, “the team really drives our initiatives. Trey Paul is the one who really wanted to do the clean-up and took a lead with some important aspects of the project.”

On March 21, the Raider Neighbor team conducted a community clean-up with about 65 student, staff, and faculty volunteers in the Richard Ave., Queen St., High St. and Fort St. area. The project was a collaboration with SAAC, MSA, PANHEL, IFC, Exploratory Studies, Fraternity and Sorority Life, and Tau Kappa.