The School of Social Work and the Rosamond Gifford Charitable Corporation have launched a unique partnership to promote collaboration among diverse community groups. Through a series of town meetings called the Rosamond Gifford Community Exchange Forums, they hope to identify the ingredients needed to foster successful partnerships that will bring about positive change in the community. “We also hope the forums can serve as a resource for successful collaborative efforts already functioning in the community,” says Gifford Foundation program director Kathy Goldfarb.
      In spring 1999, the School of Social Work received a $420,000 grant from the Syracuse-based Gifford Foundation to organize a series of forums featuring nationally recognized experts in collaboration and community building. “Collaboration is an illusive term that has negative connotations for many in the community,” Goldfarb says. “Someone from the outside can bring a fresh perspective to an issue and help neutralize turf battles.”
      The forum’s kickoff dinner last fall featured keynote speaker Geoffrey Canada, a national expert on issues concerning violence, children, and community development. The following day, Canada led members of Syracuse’s Youth Violence Task Force and other community members in a town meeting to discuss ways of addressing the city’s growing youth violence problem. Canada also facilitated an interactive forum for 30 local human service agencies, encouraging participants to pinpoint barriers hindering collaboration. “Many groups, trying to make sense out of the same critical issue, have never been in one place together,” says Keith Alford, social work professor and project director. “This was an important first step toward breaking down barriers and building trust.”
      Following the kickoff dinner, the forum’s advisory committee invited Denys Candy, a practitioner and scholar of effective collaboration, to meet with local groups to provide basic guidelines for successful collaboration. Candy says a community must first define exactly what it wants to do, and what specific goals it wants to achieve. Then it must assess the current reality, both good and bad, before developing a plan to move forward. He also encourages organizations to define mechanisms for accountability and conflict management to establish trust. “Candy has helped us lay the groundwork for possible collaborations around serious community issues,” Alford says. “His ability to bridge rhetoric and action is so effective, we intend to bring him back as a consultant throughout the forum series.”
      Mary Ann Higgins, a national expert on federal policy issues surrounding children and families, spoke at the September forum on fostering collaboration associated with welfare and work. The remaining two events, scheduled for March and June 2001, will focus on educational enhancement and building a unified community. “If we can all begin to view the term ‘collaboration’ as positive,” Alford says, “then the Community Exchange Forums will have been a success.”
                                                                                                                                                          —CHRISTINE YACKEL



courtesy of michael elmore photo
The Madrigal Dinner is a festive occasion for members of the University community.
From the boar’s head procession to the candlelight recession, Syracuse University’s Madrigal Dinner blends tradition and improvisation into an evening of festive merrymaking. For three December nights, students from the College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA) transform Goldstein Auditorium into a medieval banquet hall, where jugglers, jesters, and lords and ladies of the realm entertain dinner guests. The University Singers act as hosts of the event, performing ceremonial music and Renaissance songs throughout the evening. “The singers devote hours of rehearsal time leading up to performance week and spend six consecutive nights during the last week of classes mounting and performing the production,” says music professor G. Burton Harbison. “The schedule is intense, but it all seems worth it when they bond as a group and achieve a rare quality of music-making.”
      A group of student volunteers writes the Madrigal Dinner script, which weaves in and out of the formal musical pieces. Students from the Improv Group, University Union TV, and the SU Juggling Club perform the script like a television sitcom. Unwitting audience members become involved in the story as the singers and cast of quirky characters lead them in a lively rendition of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
      The current Madrigal Dinner is the invention of Harbison and student activities director Michael Elmore. This December marked the fifth year that the two co-produced the event. “I pull together the script, actors, sets, costumes, and food, while Burt selects the choral pieces, rehearses the singers, and coordinates the early music ensemble,” Elmore says. “All the other people involved in the production are Syracuse University students.”
      Many SU staff members celebrate the holiday season at the Madrigal Dinner in place of the usual office party. Pamela Heintz, director of the Center for Public and Community Service, treats her staff to the event as a way of thanking them for their hard work throughout the year. “I look forward to the Madrigal Dinner with great anticipation because my staff members and I always have so much fun together,” she says. “The University Singers are exceptional musicians who combine the randiness of the times with the beauty of the season—the final Silent Night always brings tears to my eyes.”
                                                                                                                                                    —CHRISTINE YACKEL

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