One afternoon, Sarah Cosgray looked out of her apartment in Tower Village and saw an angry kid beating up another at the bus stop. She broke up the fight with her roommates, but the incident showed her that there are real problems outside the “University of Dallas Bubble”— problems that are nearer to UD students than many realize.
This developing thought evolved into action when Sarah’s sister, Emily Cosgray, and her friend Victoria Caranti began to invite the kids of Tower Village to gather on campus each Friday afternoon and play sports, including soccer, flag football and capture the flag.
“Over at UD, we have kind of a little utopia with a ton of amazing people with a lot to offer, and there’s just a totally different world going on in Tower Village. … I thought that by including the kids in sports it gives us an opportunity to share a little bit of our world with theirs,” Emily Cosgray said.
The plan quickly gained speed and was initiated as “Northgate Neighbors,” a title reflective of the camaraderie that Cosgray and Caranti sought to establish between UD students and the kids who live in the apartments near campus.
Sophomore Thomas Andrews says, “The mission statement of the whole thing to me is to shed a positive light on the university to the kids who only see what goes on at Old Mill — it’s really not the entirety of student life, it’s only a small portion.”
Dennis Garza, a 10-year-old who has been coming to Northgate Neighbors for over a year, states that the party scene at Old Mill is a fact of life.
“When they have parties at the apartments they let us play the games … we meet other students. The parties are really loud and pretty crazy, but sometimes they let us eat when they grill out.”
Aaron Demons, who has lived in Tower Village since he was an infant, has a different view of Old Mill’s weekend parties. “You’re supposed to be in college to learn, not to party,”he said.
Whatever opinions the kids of Old Mill have of UD students, they undoubtedly appreciate the one-on-one care and friendship of the students who play with them each Friday.
“They’re good role models to us,” Demons said. “They are like mentors, kind of, and ask what we do on our weekends to make sure that we aren’t getting into trouble or anything. They just care about us.”
“I think it’s really fun,” 10-year-old Caleb Copeland said. “It gives me a chance to come and meet new people. They’re really nice people.”
The friendships and fellowship enjoyed are not, however, exclusively beneficial to the kids who attend the program.
“I enjoy talking to the kids,” Emily Cosgray said. “They’re just great. They just want to be your friend. … The beauty of it is that they just want to play games, it doesn’t have to be like bells and whistles or anything that complicated.”
Northgate Neighbors operates as smoothly as any organized system; the students pick up the resident kids at Old Mill at 4 p.m. on Friday afternoons, walk over to the field behind Clark Hall, play sports until 5p.m. and then walk back to Old Mill to drop the kids off.
The program has, however, had its difficulties.
“The hardest part was spreading the word,” Emily Cosgray said. “It’s not too hard to find UD students who are willing to do it with us, although sometimes that’s dwindling too. It’s mostly hard to tell the kids about it because the only way to tell them is to knock on their doors and ask to play. And when you don’t have a real reason — like it’s not a part of a program or somehow earning you community service hours, then the parents are a little confused about why you’re doing it.”
Northgate Neighbors is not an official school club, nor does it plan to be in the near future. Since there is considerable liability involved, the students who run it find it easier to maintain one-on-one connections and personal relationships with the kids’ parents, who sometimes attend to watch the fun.
Emily states that the program has helped bridge the gap between the students of UD and the non-student resident families across the street.
“I have seen how the parents and kids have felt more included in the UD community—I think they have a better idea of what UD is about and I hear them talking about the campus more and more,” she said.
Many of the kids who attend the program come from broken immigrant families and lower-income homes; the program gives the students a way to give some of the many gifts that they have received.
“There are a lot of great families that live in Tower Village, but there are also some difficult situations. They probably don’t come from the most rich of families or the most happy homes as many of the students at UD do, and I just wanted to share some of that.” said Emily.
The beauty of Northgate Neighbors is that it unites the kids and the students in something that they all share: a desire to have fun.
“The students are pretty fun to play with, and they’re the first ones that I knew that show us how to play sports like soccer and tennis — I’ve learned lots of new things here,” Garza said.
Thomas Andrews sums up what seems to be the trademark quality of Northgate Neighbors — an emphasis on simplicity and lively togetherness:
“I like the kids’ enthusiasm — it breaks up the mundane routine of the typical school schedule, and they just bring in such a joy and simplicity to life.”