For the first time anyone could remember, neighbors from New Haven’s 12 community management teams came together to hatch a project they hope will bring the city together this summer.
Spearheaded by Newhallville’s management team, the neighbors gathered in a City Hall conference room Monday evening to lay the groundwork for “60 Days of Summer,” a community-led initiative to ensure that from July 1 until Labor Day families have fun, affordable things to do — “adventures” —in every part of the city.
Kim Harris, a management team co-chair for Newhallville, said the idea grew out of the $1 million federal Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation grant for the neighborhood and what she perceived as a lack of awareness about the benefits it was providing for the community. She thought: What if every community could have something similar?
“We know budgets are short,” she said. “But we also know that in Newhallville when things aren’t happening, things happen.”
So she pitched the idea to her management team. Originally billed as “65 Days of Summer Adventures,” it would create a citywide calendar of activities in each neighborhood that would encourage people to see other parts of the city and feature inexpensive activities for children.
Harris also had the idea of creating an expo and summit that would showcase each of the activities that people could enjoy throughout the summer and provide training for those interested serving on city management teams. The idea was pitched to Mayor Toni Harp, who is now its No.1 cheerleader.
“I’m even more excited than Kim is,” Harp told the Monday gathering with a chuckle. Harp committed to providing space on the city’s website for a landing page that features all the management teams and a combined calendar that will let people know what’s going on throughout the summer.
Newhallville’s Management Team has “caught on fire around what it is they can do in their community, and they took that vision and expanded it to what can be done citywide if you work together,” Harp observed.
“I’m so excited about it. I think it creates a great opportunity for our city, for our residents and particularly for our young people as we come together across the city to set mutual goals in a time-limited space and we work together to achieve those goals. I can’t wait to hear what you do together because I know you’re creative, you’re smart and hardworking. That’s all it takes to build a community. And quite frankly, that’s all it takes to build a city.”
With that support, the teams brainstormed. Someone suggested a passport program in which children collect stamps all over the city at every activity they complete. A citywide scavenger hunt also was suggested.
Nina Silva, chair of the Dixwell Management team, suggested tying in activities to the food trucks that provide summer meals for the city’s children. Another suggestion involved creating a reading chain that allowed children to add a paper chainlink for every book they read at the library. Each neighborhood could have a different color and the full chain will be unveiled at the close of the summer.
Harris spoke of a “Sundae on Monday” program at her school, Harris & Tucker Preschool. Children can stop by and read a book during the summer, enjoy the school’s splash pad while parents can check out the school, and then have an ice cream sundae
Westville/West Hills Co-Chair Marjorie Weiner’s wheels started turning. The neighborhood’s resident salsa instructor (Alisa Bowens) might like to offer some mini classes, she suggested. Sarah Jordan, a Westvillean who works at Albertus Magnus College, wondered if colleges and their students who are here for the summer might like to get involved.
At a training summit, attendees said, potential new leaders could pick up tips on organizing, meeting facilitation, and conflict resolution.
Florita Gillespie, president of the Dwight Mangement Team, put in a plug for teaching budgeting and financial literacy. The New Haven Fire Department is on board with the plan with Chief John Alston committing to having fire safety training available at firehouses throughout the city. The city’s parks and recreation department’s calendar of activities also will be integrated into the 60 Days project. There’s even some talk about how to provide transportation to help people move around the city.
Neighbors closed out their first planning session with a sparkling apple juice toast to success.
“This is our gift back to the city,” Harris said. “Every community will be represented.”