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Katy Van Dunk

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Katy Van Dunk has lived in Riverwest almost her entire life, but that’s doesn’t mean she has been a Riverwester for 50 years. In fact, she’s lived in the neighborhood for nearly 14 years, and as a young resident, she’s got some insights to share. “The neighborhood is pretty quiet,” says Van Dunk, sitting in the cozy living room of her Weil Street house. “The neighbors are very respectful toward each other and very helpful. It’s a tight-knit community.” Van Dunk’s parents, Greg and Ann, moved to Riverwest with Katy and her brothers, Kent, 16, and Reed, 14, when Greg Van Dunk, a pastor, was asked to start a church in the Harambee neighborhood. The neighborhood exposed their children to economic, racial and professional diversity, says Katy’s mother, Ann Van Dunk. “There are college professors and factory workers living next door to each other…. It’s a really good way to grow up,” she says “We made a fairly significant decision to come into the city into a fairly diverse community,” says Greg Van Dunk. “We’re pretty aware [Katy] was going to be shaped in exciting ways, appreciate diversity and function in a diverse world,” he adds. A senior at Riverside University High School, Katy says she’s not really active in neighborhood groups besides the Peace Action Center, but her eyes light up when she talks about volunteering at the Urban Ecology Center and at All People’s Church, where her father is a pastor. Van Dunk teaches Sunday school and has traveled to South America to help start churches. She has also been an active UEC volunteer for three years, and participated in the outdoor leader program. “The Center is always open,” she says. Van Dunk likes spending time outdoors, so the parks are her favorite places in the neighborhood, she says, fondly recalling playing soccer on Kern Park’s baseball diamond. The best part of living in Riverwest is being able to walk everywhere and being close to the neighborhoods, says Van Dunk, who baby-sits for several families on her street. The worst parts are the occasional safety concerns. “You can’t walk at night around here,” she says. Van Dunk talks casually about Riverwest, as if she finds her upbringing in a diverse, urban neighborhood nothing out of the ordinary, but she brightens when the topic changes to Milwaukee Public Schools. One thing that infuriates her is blanket criticism of MPS. After reading a letter in the Journal Sentinel from a suburban parent who derided MPS students, Van Dunk says she wrote to the paper in response. “That’s talking about me and my friends,” she says. “I’m very open and very liberal and I have friends who are black, Hispanic, white, from different economic classes. When people talk about MPS being a ‘bad’ school, I say to them, ‘That’s ignorance, you don’t understand because you haven’t been exposed to MPS students.'” “I know I would not be who I am if it was not for MPS schools,” adds Van Dunk, who attributes her placement in an advanced Spanish class to attending La Escuela Fratney with Hispanic children when she was younger. “We are committed to sending our kids to public schools,” says Ann Van Dunk. “I feel that as a parent you have to get involved.” “Most schools can do well when parents [are involved],” says Greg Van Dunk. “We have worked with so many teachers who really care and [our children] have all done fine,” he says. Next year, Van Dunk plans to attend UW-Madison, Alverno College or Carthage College and double major in international relations and Spanish. She will miss Riverwest the most when she moves, she says. If she finds a good job in the area she wouldn’t mind living in the neighborhood, she adds. When she comes back to Riverwest, she would like to find more new businesses, more houses fixed up and maintained and a safer neighborhood. But most of all, she’d like more bilingual schools like La Escuela Fratney for children of immigrants. “It’s hard to learn an adopted language,” she says. “Traveling abroad changes your ignorance.” ~
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