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Community Leadership NH Rotary Club Presentation

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Overview of community organizing work and results in one neighborhood in New Haven, CT

Overview of community organizing work and results in one neighborhood in New Haven, CT

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  • 1. Community Leadership New Haven Rotary Club – 8/5/08 Thank you for inviting me to speak. I am going to make a series of assertions. They are not necessarily the truth. I am going to ask you to reflect on these assertions in light of the stories that follow. Community is advanced by leaders with a commitment to personal responsibility and to action with others for the greater good. Personal responsibility underlies the ability to be truly autonomous and truly community. People who make a difference in community struggle of their own volition. Great challenges bring forth in them greater determination. Leaders are discovered. Leaders are developed. Leaders are inspired by the example of others. Community in Chatham Square is advanced through the leadership of Barbara, a resident and the receptionist at a local Law Office. Barbara has lived in the neighborhood for 35 years. She stood up at a neighborhood meeting and declared her intention of walking around Chatham Square park daily and asked her neighbors to join her. Through this action Barbara met her neighbors, together, they reduced prostitution in the park to zero and two years later their collective health is greatly improved. Community is exemplified by a group of neighbors organizing a photography program as a summer activity for the children who live there. Community leadership is apparent in the work of Gerda. Gerda was born in Haiti. She is studying early childhood education at Southern Connecticut State University. Gerda is the mother of three teenagers. She initiated a door to door fundraising effort that resulted in over $400 dollars of donations by dozens of individuals. Community leadership in Chatham Square is demonstrated by Fereshteh. Fereshteh was born in Iran. She is an architect by training, a developer by passion. She once said, “ I came to New Haven, I saw the Quinnipiac River and surrounding neighborhood and I fell in love. Fereshteh stepped up to the plate donating $1000 for a community initiated project that will change how people move through and relate to each other in Chatham Square. Community is evident in the time and effort residents of Chatham Square spent organizing their Festival. It drew residents and realtors bringing together those who love the neighborhood with those who presente it to the buying public. Community leadership is turned into action by Erin, a mom, a resident activist and a biker. Erin identified residents interested in the impact that motorized transportation is having on the quality of life in her neighborhood, she challenged the City of New Haven to match the money that the residents were donating and that The Community Foundation was matching, she got the City of New Haven to contribute $5000 for the traffic calming study. Erin also called Gatlin, a national traffic engineering company and she negotiated a $10,000 reduction in the prices of the study based in part on the fact that residents were donating a significant portion of the funds to make the study possible. As far as the people from Gatlin know this is unprecedented on a national level.
  • 2. Community is exemplified by the 20 plus residents who turned out to welcome Sherese, a first time homebuyer, a mom, an employee of a local organization, a former resident of the nearby housing project, now a landlord to her father. Community leadership is exemplified by Joan and an anonymous person from the neighborhood. First Joan, Joan organized 40 residents in the neighborhood to do a clean up of the park and three local community gardens matching two to one the volunteers who came to help on Yale Community Day in April but that is not the best part. What is truly wonderful is what happened after the clean up. After the clean up some idiot decided to entertain himself by ripping open the bags of refuse that the volunteers had worked to collect all day, still not the wonderful part. The wonderful part is that an anonymous person or persons recollected the refuse in new bags to be picked up by the city the next day. To this day no one knows who did this but I assure you it changed the conversation in the neighborhood. Community leaders are inspired by people the ones I mentioned in these stories. Richard and Paula live in Hamden. They have a fund at the Community Foundation. They have no direct connection to Chatham Square neighborhood. They donated $5000 to this work because they saw in Chatham Square the world as they want it to be and they became a part of it in away that made sense for them. So again I tell you: Community is advanced by leaders with a commitment to personal responsibility and to action with others for the greater good. Personal responsibility underlies the ability to be truly autonomous and truly community. People who make a difference in community struggle of their own volition. Great challenges bring forth in them greater determination. Leaders are discovered. Leaders are developed. Leaders are inspired by the example of others. Where are you leading? Now some particulars to round out the conversation. Chatham Square is a neighborhood in New Haven that you have probably never heard of because residents intentionally created it less than 3 years ago while working with the Community Foundation through one of our leadership initiatives. We have started working with West River another New Haven neighborhood in the same way because residents asked us to partner with them. Chatham Square neighborhood is bounded by the Quinnipiac Rive, Grand Avenue, Ferry Street and Middletown Avenue. You can visit by driving east on Grand and turning right on Clinton Avenue or by riding your bicycle from Whitney Avenue and Humphrey street until Humphrey becomes Lombard. Continue on Lombard until Clinton Avenue. You will recognize Clinton Avenue by the new, recently painted bicycle lanes. The Community Foundation funds a number of not-for-profits organization working for social good in many areas. However as a community leader we have a responsibility not only to be responsive but to take the initiative in areas
  • 3. where our expertise and knowledge can make a difference. Building on over a decade of working with residents of urban neighborhoods through our Community Gardens and Greenspace program and our Neighborhood Small Grants Program in 2005 the Board of Directors declared our intention of making a great difference in urban neighborhoods. So, in addition to funding The Community Foundation brought knowledge of the work of Dr. Felton Earls of Harvard School of Public Health. Dr. Earls conducted a longitudinal study of crime and violence in urban neighborhoods. He concluded that what reduces violent crime is not program or policing it is getting residents to work together on things that are important to them. Interestingly he found a whole other level of reduction of violence is achieved when residents know the names of the children of the neighborhood. Here is a story that illustrates this: Jason is a 14 year old that lives a couple of buildings over from my house. Recently he was in the yard of the Strong Elementary School, right next to my house, with his little brother. Jason was throwing rocks at the windows of the school, clearly trying to break them. I looked over my fence and yelled out to him, “Yo, Jason your bother is watching what you are doing.” In case you do not know it is often the case that when you are 14 and a male your brain is disconnected from your body. Jason was not thinking about the long or short term consequences of what he was doing. Because I did not yell at him for doing what he was doing, much less swear at him Jason dropped the rock. I have seen him in the school yard on several occasions after this incident, so far never throwing a rock at the school. The second bit of knowledge we brought to the work with Chatham Square resident is the Healthy Neighborhood framework for neighborhood revitalization. This framework was developed by Fall Creek Consulting. It has residents consider the image, physical condition, market and management of problems in their neighborhood. More information is available if you Google: Fall Creek Consulting Health Neighborhood. Finally and perhaps most importantly we brought knowledge about relational culture organizing. Relational culture organizing works with the premise that power comes from relationships people in a community build with each other. The Community Foundation encouraged and facilitated residents getting to know each other by working together on activities and events that they are interested in and committed too. It is all about them and their community. For more information about relational culture Google: Louise Green Planting Seeds. Louise is a Unitarian Minister. She wrote a 6 page paper explaining how relational culture organizing can be used to build community in a church, we applied the principals to a neighborhood and the results are evident in the stories you have heard. Now you have a choice, you can either keep repeating the stories about New Haven neighborhoods that you see in newspapers and on TV or you can repeat these stories. You can complain about how much money goes into social service programs that do not appear to make a difference or you can make a difference by working with The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven in Chatham Square or in any of a number of other places where we are making a difference. Thank you.