a rant

about this housing community.

Their advertising is genius. A row of perfect, clean, cute looking cottages lines the top of the poster with a presumably African child beneath. The words “Live here…help someone here” convey Aspen Heights’s brilliant business model.

I can’t imagine you could be a living, breathing member of this student population without hearing about Aspen Heights. This new housing development boasts the best living situation available to college students: cottage style homes, private bathrooms, a neighborhood gym, and a pool – all safely within a gated community. And the best part? A portion of your lease goes toward helping African children.

I’m sorry, but does anyone else get a creepy Stepford Wives vibe about this place? It’s a nationwide business that is turning out these identical neighborhoods at college campuses all over the country, marketed perfectly for students and their budding philanthropic ideals.

I watched the video on the Aspen Heights website and I have just a little bit of a problem with the way they convey their message. Lifted straight from their Aspen Heights in Africa video: “a portion of every lease for residence through Aspen Heights goes toward providing housing and educational opportunities on the continent of Africa.”

Really? Well that’s cool, but I was planning on sending my money to help education in Asia. Or South America. Or Europe.

Africa is the only continent that we seem to collectively view as its own country – and one that is always in need of our help from over here in the U.S. There are 47 countries in Africa, and they all have their own economies, histories, and cultures. Aspen Heights’s campaign only reinforces the idea that Africa is filled with starving children covered in flies who have absolutely no hope or ability to help themselves.

To be fair, Kenya, the one African country Aspen Heights did name, is in a state of great poverty — 50% of its population lives below the poverty line. Yes, I’d say that definitely warrants some attention. Disregarding the brilliant but warped ad techniques that Aspen Heights has used, I’m all for giving girls more educational opportunities. I do commend them in at least providing the name of a school they fund. But I wonder how much of the money goes to this school and how much goes right into the fat pockets of the guys at the top of this company.

Rent for these lovely cottages is projected to be at least $500-600 a month, which is a little bit steep but I suppose it’s worth it when you’re paying for your monthly good karma. Here’s a thought. If you want to help out those in poverty — those who are missing out on educational opportunities — just take a peek outside your car window when you’re driving to class.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Census Bureau released data saying that Athens-Clarke County has the highest poverty rate in counties with populations more than 100,000 in the entire country. 44.9% of the population lives beneath the poverty line and 100% of students in three Athens-Clarke County elementary schools are on free and reduced lunch programs.

My suggestion? Live in a house or an apartment that’s already in town, save some money and donate it to local charities or fundraisers that help the children in Athens-Clarke County. Volunteer in the elementary schools or at the Boys and Girls Club. If you live in Aspen Heights, yes, a portion of your lease will probably go to help some girl somewhere in Kenya — maybe — but I can guarantee that you will see more of an impact if you dedicated your time to helping out in your own community.

It’s a shame how apparent the economic disparity is in this town. You have some of the most affluent people from in and out of this state living right across the street from people who can’t even afford a school lunch. The solution isn’t to gate yourself off into yet another bubble of detachment, but to get out there, get your hands dirty, and actually do something real.

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