St. Luke’s Builds Hope in Dixwell

Ninety-two year-old Josephine Jarvis Gray (pictured at center) lent a hand Tuesday at the groundbreaking for a new senior complex where she hopes to live next year — and which will bear her name.

Gray donned a hard hat along with community leaders gathered at the junction of Sperry, Goffe, and Dickerman streets for the official launch of construction of 18 apartments designed for the elderly. The event was a joyful one, for three reasons.

Reason one: Seniors need the housing.

Reason two: St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, which formed a not-for-profit development corporation to build the $3.2 million complex, took on the project as part of a larger drive to improve life in its corner of the Dixwell neighborhood. (Click here for a story about that aspect of the project’s origins.) The respected congregation drew help from groups all over town to make this happen.

Reason three: The builders made an inspired choice for the project’s namesake.

A retired Winchester factory worker, Josephine Jarvis never made a fortune or ascended to pinnacles of civic power. Instead, she quietly, persistently, made a difference.

She made a difference at St. Luke’s. She has been a member of the Whalley Avenue congregation for 83 years. She has religiously donated what she could to the church. Her sister died recently and left “a little” money; Gray, who lives in the public-housing Crawford Manor, gave all the money to St. Luke’s.

She also planned ahead to save a little bit at a time to care for her grandchildren, nieces and nephews, said Sheldon Rhinehart, one of the two church elders (he’s pictured at left beside the other one, William Spruill, Jr.) who guided the senior building project from its origins along with Father Victor Rogers.

“She’s a giving person,” Rhinehart said. “This building will symbolize a person who has that drive and initiative at that age.”

It will also symbolize the work that can get done when different parts of the community work together. Tuesday’s ceremony featured remarks by representatives of a host of agencies that contributed either money or expertise.

Julie Fagan represented the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development’s regional office in Hartford. She said this project moved far faster than most others competing for federal dough. It won its $2.8 million on the first try, after just a few months; it usually takes not-for-profits 18 months and a couple of attempts, she said. HUD will subsidize rents on the apartments.

“I can’t tell you how many calls come into my office regarding affordable and safe housing for seniors,” said city Elderly Services chief Darcey Lynn Cobbs. The city’s Livable City Initiative helped the project, too.

As did the Greater New Haven Community Loan Fund and Yale Law School’s Legal Services Clinic, both of which were represented by emcee Peggy Hamilton (pictured); Yale’s Office of New Haven and State Affairs, NewAlliance Bank, Citizens Bank, the state Department of Economic Development…

… and Empower New Haven, represented by Tom Ficklin.

Organizers are hopeful they can keep up the pace and have the Josephine Jarvis Gray Homes ready for tenants next fall. Josephine Jarvis Gray can’t wait to move in. “I want to be near my church,” she said, “and I want to be near my senior center.”

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posted by: Chuck on November 17, 2006  2:50am

What a heart-warming story! Congratulations to the folk at St. Lukes!