Sharing visions, transforming neighborhoods

ReImagine North of Main summit puts focus on community action

By Anna Burgess,

Updated:   04/01/2016 08:35:17 AM EDT

FITCHBURG -- At the ReImagine North of Main second annual summit on Thursday, guest speaker Angela Ankoma described how she helped make a vision for her neighborhood -- a vision of clean, safe parks, diverse, healthy food options, and new housing units -- a reality.

Though Ankoma lives in Providence, her neighborhood and its transformation has many parallels to the North of Main Street neighborhood in Fitchburg.

"We really worked together to make the vision a reality," she said of her neighbors. "We knew community members were passionate, and if we pulled our efforts together, we'd be able to do it."

Since the revitalization of her neighborhood, Ankoma said, "people have been coming out and connecting with each other more."

Though the work isn't done in her community, it is getting easier to make change now that the change has begun, she said.

The ReImagine North of Main summit, which took place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Fitchburg Senior Center, focused on getting North of Main residents involved in their neighborhood the way Ankoma got involved in hers three years ago.

Because ReImagine NOM is a project dedicated to revitalizing a particular neighborhood, Project Coordinator Tom Skwierawski and Project Director Tricia Pistone said that getting neighborhood residents involved is very important to them.

The first part of the summit Thursday was devoted to letting residents eat, talk to each other, and gather knowledge from the information tables focused on different types of community engagement.

They were able to talk with ReImagine NOM community partners about ways to "build yourself," "build your neighborhood," "build your city," and "build our future."

Crossroads Community Church member Maria Aponte, who had attended the Community Leadership Institute in Kentucky with Skwierawski, Pistone, and several other ReImagine NOM partners, explained how she was inspired last year to become more of a community leader.

"The (institute) just taught me more things about getting involved in the community," Aponte said. "It woke something up in me, and since then, I've gone to more community events and tried to meet people."

People like Aponte came to the summit Thursday to encourage others to get involved.

During his speech at the event, ReImagine NOM Advisory Board member Marc Dohan told residents, "we believe in you."

"We believe in residents and stakeholders," Dohan said. "We believe the best ideas come from people in the community."

On the other hand, Mayor Stephen DiNatale said to residents that if they get involved, "you're showing me and your neighbors and your friends that you believe in Fitchburg, and you support improving our city's neighborhoods."

"I hope you leave this meeting thinking you can help to make a difference," he said.

The last portion of the event encouraged residents to pick from several discussion topics and have proactive conversations with one another around these topics.

One group talked about plans for the Porch Fest in May, another discussed ways to get residents more involved in city government, and a third focused on the upcoming neighborhood cleanup.

Janet Gordon, who has lived in the North of Main neighborhood for 22 years, was interested in the last topic.

"Sometimes when a neighborhood is really rundown, bad things can happen there, but if you go to an upper-class neighborhood, you don't see that type of stuff," Gordon said. "If we can clean things up, we can make a good impression."

"That's something I could help to do," she added.

Ankoma, during her speech, encouraged everyone to get involved in improving their community, even if in a small way.

"Oftentimes, we're waiting for someone else to come and change things, for superheroes, for the next Martin Luther King," she said. "But we're the ones we're waiting for. It's us."

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