The Promise Land Project that kicked off in January of 2011 made many promises to the residents of a small 20-block Newhallville area that runs from Cave Street south to Division and from Dixwell to Winchester East.
In just one year it has made progress to keep those promises while planning to expand its efforts in the neighborhood and beyond.
The project is an offshoot of the 13-year old Christian Community Commission (CCC), an outreach coalition largely comprised of African-American pastors and other local church leaders. The Promise Land Project was the brainchild of Pastor Donald Morris (pictured), Executive Director of CCC. Last year he presented the concept to his board, explaining that they should adopt a concentrated 20-block area of Newhallville that has been hardest hit by crime.
The mission is focused upon delivery of needed services to residents including food distribution, health care information, and a voter registration drive. In addition the Promise Land Project beautifies streets in the area with volunteer assistance from the Urban Resources Initiative, a coalition of more than 10 different churches and other community groups.
At a neighborhood gathering of about 75 residents of the area held at Bassett School in the middle of March, Pastor Donald Morris, Executive Director of the Christian Community Commission and President of the Promise Land Project, claimed “Victory.” We have met the enemy face to face and they have backed down and will let our community live again due to our efforts to not give up on Newhallville, said Morris.
There are Saturday cleanups, weekly walking vigils through the neighborhood to help reduce crime, and organized summertime bike rides and fishing outings for young people. New street and porch lights are being installed and the organization is bringing the successful Solar Youth program to Newhallville. Solar Youth Executive Director Joanne Scuilli (pictured) said she will plant their flag at the Faith Temple Deliverance Church, on the corner of Ivy and Newhall streets, which is headed by Bishop Colon Haywood.
This is a great opportunity for our youth to participate in positive activities that will benefit their own growth and maturity and a great benefit for our community to benefit too, said Bishop Haywood. The space has been donated to Solar Youth at no charge by the church. Scuilli explained that the plan is to replicate programs for after school and summer activities for kids at the new space in the same way that those kinds of programs have been started in McConaughy Terrace, Westville Manor, West River, and Fair Haven.
One key player in the successful crime reduction initiative is Assistant Chief Thaddeus Reddish, former district police manager of Newhallville. Reddish said he will never let Newhallville go back to what it once was in terms of gang activity and violence.
“Overall crime in the area is down largely due to the community’s efforts to stem the violence by becoming more visible and helpful,” he said. “Gang-related violence is down and the physical presence of gangs has been diminished. But we must always remember that they are still out there, and keep our eyes open.”
By this time last year New Haven recorded 10 homicides with four of them having taken place in Newhallville. But as of the end of March 2012 there have only been two citywide homicides—with none taking place in Newhallville.
“That is our victory,” proclaimed Pastor Morris. “We can never rest on our laurels and we will keep up our efforts to stay connected with this community. It is our hope that the Promise Land Project can be replicated throughout the city, state, and country.”
Morris, who said he also believes that Solar Youth will be a big asset to the area, attributes the positive changes and accomplishments to the fact that citizens came forward and made their presence felt.
“I think people needed to know we are truly here, not only with words but physically,” he said. “We have walked and talked with people in the rain, snow, and sunshine. We have helped clean up littered streets and landscape people’s front lawns. We have prayed with residents, ridden bikes, and taken young people fishing. We will stay. Plans to expand the Promise Land area are in active discussion among the board at this time. We want to see our efforts grow to surrounding streets until we have covered all of Newhallville.”
One of the more visible projects, Project Lighten Up, will ensure that new lights will shine down on the streets of Newhallville. Project Lighten Up is a collaboration among area churches, electric utility company United Illuminating, Neighborhood Housing Services, the City of New Haven, the New Haven Parks Department, and Urban Resources Initiative.
Alan Kendrix of North Haven, a retired Central Connecticut University employee who now serves as Chaplain at Bridgeport Hospital, is the lighting project’s coordinator.
According to Kendrix, Lilac Street is scheduled to have new lights installed in early April, and then the initiative will be expanded to other streets that lack safe lighting.
“We have been truly blessed,” said Pastor Morris, “with all the people and groups that have stepped up to help the Promise Land Project obtain positive, measurable results for this community.”
Those wanting more information about the Promise Land Project or the Christian Community Commission can contact Pastor Donald Morris at 203-627-8333.