Fire Didn’t Stop Her

Thomas MacMillan PhotoA fire destroyed Maria Solomon’s home while she was taking a 20-week community leadership course. Monday night she celebrated graduating the course—while creating a new life for her own family in a new home.

Solomon (pictured) is one of 19 graduates of the latest class of the New Haven Parent Leadership Training Institute (PLTI). She and her classmates were recognized for their achievements at a graduation ceremony in City Hall on Monday evening.

PLTI started in Hartford 23 years ago as a way to train parents to take an active role in policy discussions about children. It’s a program of the Connecticut Commission on Children, in partnership in New Haven with Christian Community Action. Anti-violence program Ice The Beef helped as well. Participating parents meet each week for three hours, learning about leadership and how to get involved with their communities, as well as local and state government.

Halfway through the program, while she was at one PLTI’s weekly meetings, Solomon’s condo went up in flames. Solomon brought her skills taught in the course—such as dealing with government and community agencies—to bear on bringing herself and her three kids through the sudden loss of their home and belongings.

With the help of the city’s Livable City Initiative, they lived in a motel for five weeks before finding a new home in Fair Haven Heights in May. Solomon said she’s sleeping on an air mattress, but grateful to have a home.

Solomon is still putting the home together. She showed pictures on her phone of her kids using plastic storage tubs as dinner tables. She hasn’t picked up a proper table yet. Luckily, her kids have new bunk beds that she’d been buying on layaway before the fire.

She said her kids are still shaken by the fire. Whenever her 5-year-old sees a boarded-up house, he asks her if it was burned down like theirs.

Solomon said she leaned on PLTI during the ordeal. For one thing, the Tuesday night meetings offered free food and child care; so for one night a week she didn’t have to worry about cooking. And she found support from the other participants in the program.

Monday’s graduation ceremony included remarks from PLTI’s founder and current facilitators, as well as from alums. Class speaker Dawn Herring (pictured) spoke about her final project, convening a community dialogue at the library about marijuana use and abuse.

Christian Community Action head Bonita Grubbs (at right in photo) congratulated each graduate as he or she collected a certificate.

The ceremony concluded with hoots and applause.

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