This Wall Will Make Good Neighbors

Allan Appel PhotoIn a few weeks this wall will bear not only the mural art of nearby Lincoln-Bassett School fifth and sixth graders, but also the aspirations, big and small, of a neighborhood.

The good news of the future beautification of the lonely brick wall on Shelton Avenue between Starr and Hazel streets (pictured) was at the heart of the second annual Mayors Day of Recognition for National Service.

The optimistic gathering at the school’s auditorium Tuesday afternoon was one of 1,700 occurring in that many cities across the country, said Michael Smith. He’s the director of the Social Innovation Fund of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that is the umbrella and funder for AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, and many other similar service troops.

The event drew 200 volunteers, kid beneficiaries, and officials from a dozen area agencies that funnel federal volunteer funds and personnel from groups like AmeriCorps and Teach for America to our local agencies like Neighborhood Housing Services and the Boost! program; the latter provides “wrap-around” services at now 16 schools in town.

“More than 500 AmeriCorps and Senior Corps members serve in New Haven, proving vital support to city residents by alleviating poverty in areas of education, healthy futures, food security, and veterans’ recovery,” according to press materials distributed by the organizers.

Before she read an official proclamation, Mayor Toni Harp said: “We’re going through a recession. We’ve not been able to hire. Without you [volunteers], things would be so much worse.”

Smith echoed that sentiment: “It’s all about showing service works. It’s not just a nice thing. It’s a critical thing.”

It was certainly working for Isaiah Harrison, Kevin Lliquizaca (pictured with Isaiah), Emmanuel Brown, LaPriest Agnew, and a dozen other kids who created the murals. The work followed some lessons on street artists Bansky and Skurtur that their teacher, seven-year veteran Michael Pavano, brought to their attention.

How Pavano (pictured) and the kids were engaged tells the tale: AmeriCorps Vista volunteers Kim Ochilo and Kim Langin developed an idea of a community wall to reflect what the Newhallville community might become.

Community Building Specialist Stephen Cremin-Endes and other staff from Neighborhood Housing Services, which also fields VISTA volunteers, and has been focusing on Newhallville, joined the mural team.

He’d been “driving around Newhallville for years, taking pictures of blighted areas,” said Cremin-Endes.

In his file was the wall in question. “We could make a better wall!” he said.

Since one of the axioms of volunteerism is always to involve others and bring people together around a common goal, enter Jen Horowtiz.

She’s the coordinator of the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers working at Lincoln-Bassett in the Boost! program.

“Let’s get the art teacher, Mr. Pavano involved,” reported Cremin-Endes. And so the project was born.

It is to have three murals and, in two of the other portals, community chalk boards. Those have already been prepped by the students and Ochilo, a Kenyan-born 2012 University of Buffalo graduate who joined AmeriCorps and is serving with Neighborhood Housing Services because he’s interested in how architecture can build community.

The chalk board will have questions beneath which residents or people passing along Shelton Avenue can write their answers, said Ochilo.

Although the writing prompts haven’t been determined, some possibilities include: How can you best serve the community? What are your dreams for Newhallville?

To be continued.

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