When Newark native Jeremy Blake started at Denison in 1996 as a member of the class of 2000, he had every intention of graduating four years later. But after his first year of college, he was offered a job at the Ohio Statehouse, and the passionate politico just couldn’t say no.
Sixteen years later, Blake has earned his Denison degree in economics, and his passion for public service is fueling a very special project. Last fall, while he was working full time and taking two classes, Blake created the South Newark Civic Association (SNCA) to focus on education, engaging area residents, and creating partnerships.
“I want to help bring people together and create a voice for our community,” Blake explained.
By all appearances, he’s been successful. Blake has assembled an SNCA board, adopted a strategic plan, and has arranged several events, including a caroling night during the Christmas holidays and, most recently, a picnic to celebrate local high school graduates. “These are kids and families that might not have had the chance to have a party,” Blake said. “And we wanted to celebrate. A high school diploma is important.”
Blake knows this community inside and out—he was born and raised in south Newark, surrounded by close family next door and down the block. In high school he served on the mayor’s youth council, which whetted his appetite to address community concerns. At age 21, Blake was elected to the school board, and he served as president of that board at age 25.
The Denison community also has helped Blake’s cause along the way. Early this spring, there was a Clean-Up Day where dozens of Denison students worked with a health and fitness fest, a Community Blitz voter registration campaign on the south and east sides of Newark, and preparatory gardening work at Newark’s 6th Street “Garden of Hope.” In late May, he coordinated a Service Learning Day, which brought in several Denison faculty members, local leaders, elected officials and other nonprofits. They discussed housing, transportation and other needs of the community. And Amanda Gunn, an associate professor of communication, will create a family history project for SNCA this fall.
Taken together, efforts like these bring positive change. But the president of the SNCA is adamantly humble. “This is not about me,” Blake said. “This is all about the neighbors and community.”