Immigrant Bail Fund, Newhallville Activist Honored

Lucy Gellman photo / Paul Bass photo / Markeshia Ricks photoA lifelong Newhallville community activist and a nonprofit dedicated to keeping local immigrants out of jail are the latest recipients of an annual award given to New Haveners who work towards extending help to local families in need.

The Morris and Irmgard Wessel Fund announced on Monday that Doreen Abubakar and the Immigrant Bail Fund are the latest winners of the Unsung Heroes Award.

Abubakar, a lifelong New Havener and Newhallville resident, created the Community Placemaking and Engagement Network (CPEN), which focuses on family fitness and outdoor recreation. Her involvement in environmental issues in town goes back decades, to her early involvement with Rainbow Recycling. The mayor has tapped her to serve on the Solid Waste Authority board.

CPEN established the Newhallville Learning Corridor along the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail, a linear park that celebrates the history of Newhallville along a former canal and railway route.

The Learning Corridor features resident-maintained public greenspace and an Audubon-certified pollinator garden, a space for festivals and community gatherings, and a bicycle storage facility where community members can access bicycles (and helmets) for use on the trail and in the
community. 

The Immigrant Bail Fund, organized in 2017, pays bail for state residents in federal ICE detention who are bond-eligible, whether they have been accused of crimes or not.

A collaboration of the nonprofit Connecticut Bail Fund with the local immigrant rights groups Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), and the Connecticut Immigrant Rights Alliance, the Immigrant Bail Fund focuses on supporting immigrants who are held in prison simply because they cannot come up with the thousands of dollars meant to assure their appearance in court.

Since 1993, the Wessel Fund has given out the award to New Haveners committed to the medical, social, psychological, economic or educational support of local residents in need.

Morris Wessel ran a pediatrics practice in New Haven for 42 years, and was affiliated with the Brennan School and the Well Baby Clinic. According to the fund’s website, Wessel’s commitment to neighborhood-based programs earned him the nickname of the “peoples’ pediatrician.” (Read about his life here.)

“Defending and protecting immigrants was particularly important to our mom, Irmgard, who fled Nazi Germany in 1939,” wrote the Wessels’ children, David, Bruce, Paul and Lois in the announcement of this year’s awards. “Along with her parents, she was offered a new life by the good people of Eureka, Illinois, who gave them shelter, employment and education.”

About Abubakar, the Wessels’ children wrote, “Morris and Irm never waited for someone else to change New Haven for the better. Like Doreen Abubakar, they just did it. We know they would be pleased to celebrate her hard word and creativity.”

The Fund is a donor-advised fund at The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. Each award comes with a grant for the local nonprofit to further its efforts.

Past recipients of the Wessel Prize include: Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services (IRIS), Collective Consciousness Theatre (Dexter Singleton), Junta at Big Turtle Village (Rafael Ramos), Solar Youth(Joanne Sciulli), Karen DelVecchio, Donna Savia, St. Martin dePorres Academy(Mary Surowiekci), Bikes for Babes (Dan Perrotto), Grandparents on the Move, the Connecticut Health Policy Project, the Mob Squad (Al Shakir), The Natural Guard, the Inner City Bicycle Program (David Clough), The Cesar Jerez Catholic Worker House, and Leg Up (Anne Gallant). Also, Dan Kinsman, music instructor at Fair Haven School; Raymond Wallace, founder of the Guns Down, Books Up organization, and Music Haven, which brings music to local youth.

Click here to read the full press release.

Click on or download the above audio file to hear Bail Fund Brett Davidson,co-director of the group with Ana María Rivera-Forastieri, discuss the group’s work on an edition of WNHH FM’s “Chai Haven” program.

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