Greg Jackson, the late founding director of the Brownsville Partnership, described with nostalgia the Brownsville, Brooklyn he knew as a child. He recalled regular “rent parties,” during which neighbors chipped in to help out those who had lost a job or fallen ill, and how residents literally pooled their pennies in collection jars to build the Brownsville Boys Club (which later became the Brownsville Recreation Center) to invest in the future of their young people.
In the spirit of rent parties, Greg launched the Partnership’s coffee klatches in an effort to bring neighbors together in a resident’s home and define problems so they can develop concrete solutions together. The coffee klatches, based on a model crafted by Lawrence Community Works in Massachusetts, encompass the notion that residents need to be the change they seek.
This community-led change model is now being implemented in Northeast Hartford. On March 11th, five members of the Brownsville Partnership team visited the Northeast Neighborhood Partnership (NNP) in Hartford, Connecticut. Together, they shared best practices and held a training for future NNP coffee klatches.
“We have learned so much from our colleagues in Brownsville about community organizing and holding successful coffee klatches. It’s so great to have so much support,” said Anna Creegan, Health, Policy and Practice Associate.
During the first two coffee klatches in Northeast Hartford, residents identified one primary concern: a lack of community engagement in the neighborhood. Residents feel that their neighbors are unaware of the resources and opportunities that exist in the community.
To approach the issue head on, residents are creating a community resource calendar and proactively conducting outreach to involve their neighbors in cleaning up the neighborhood. They have planned a neighborhood beautification project to involve neighbors in helping each other clean up their yards, identify vacant properties and lots and map where broken sidewalks and street lights in need of repair are located. Following the first beautification event, the next coffee klatches will focus on ways to engage more residents in the cleanup of local streets and yards.
Another ambitious event is planned for Earth Day. On April 20, the Northeast Neighborhood Partnership will work with friends of Keney Park, Knox Parks, city government, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and other organizations to clean up Gully Brook and Keney Park. In addition to weeding, trash collection and tree planting, the event will also feature environmental education and will address the steps that the community can take to keep their open spaces clean. That same day, the Northeast Neighborhood Partnership team will hold a spring clean-up at the 2.6 acres encompassing the Swift Factory, a 65,000-square-foot former gold leaf factory that NNP is working to redevelop into an entrepreneurial hub and economic engine. The group will meet at Keney Park at 10 a.m. on April 20th to begin the cleanup.