Health Foundation lifts ReImagine North of Main with $450G grant
By Anna Burgess, firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATED: 01/15/2016 10:35:18 AM EST
FITCHBURG -- The Thursday announcement of a $450,000 grant from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts to the community revitalization initiative ReImagine North of Main sparked an enthusiastic discussion of how best to assist ReImagine North of Main in the coming year.
Various stakeholders gathered Thursday for the semi-annual ReImagine North of Main Advisory Committee meeting, where Health Foundation President Dr. Janice Yost announced her organization's $450,000 grant to ReImagine North of Main. This grant brings their total funding of the initiative to $800,000 in 2015 and 2016.
The Fitchburg Police Department, public school system, mayoral administration and Cultural Council were all represented at the meeting, as were NewVue Communities, Montachusett Opportunity Council, Community Health Connections, Growing Places, Elm Street Community Church, and other local service organizations.
In her announcement of the grant, Yost urged everyone to work hard to achieve their common goals.
"May Fitchburg and all of us focus on the plans before us," she said, "and apply the energy in this room today."
Mayor Stephen DiNatale, who was the guest speaker at the event, was excited to discuss ReImagine North of Main's goals, which he said "draw close parallels to my goals as mayor."
"I'm going to place a great emphasis on strengthening departments that have power over building and health codes," he said. "I'm going to empower residents to create change in their own neighborhoods, strengthen social connections and address problems together."
DiNatale wasn't the only one with ideas on how to advance the goals of ReImagine North of Main. During a period of discussion in small groups, the entire room filled with talk, as dozens of people shared their thoughts.
"For a neighborhood and a city to be truly healthy, you need to have the public transit system at the table with these discussions," said NewVue Communities Housing Director Steve Cook.
"We're trying to be deliberate about having kids give back to the community," the Rev. Stephen Mayo, of Elm Street Community Church, explained to his group.
"We should brand the North of Main neighborhood," said Police Chief Ernest Martineau, who grew up in that area of the city. "It has always been a melting pot, and never had a specific identity. But we should brand it simply, so as not to offend any one group."
ReImagine North of Main Project Director Tricia Pistone said using ideas like these, in collaboration with the people at the meeting and with the community, "we can re-imagine North of Main as a neighborhood of choice."
She said their goal is to make the neighborhood an area where people want to live, work, play and invest.
"As a result of the funding last year from the Health Foundation of Central Massachusetts," Pistone added, "we have laid much of the structure that will allow this work to be carried out."
ReImagine North of Main Project Coordinator Tom Skwierawski reviewed the organization's work over the past year, including their funding of mini-grants for community projects like the Main Street art pianos, and their work with students at Harvard University's Kennedy School to survey local service providers.
He then discussed ReImagine North of Main's plans for the coming year.
They have set aside $54,000 for Economic Development Director Mary Jo Bohart to use as on Main Street as soon as she completes an initial economic development plan, to "re-invigorate the heart of our community corridor," Skwierawski said.
They will continue working to promote youth literacy with the Footsteps to Brilliance program and at-home support, and will continue promoting resident engagement with their Neighbor Circles discussions.
He said the initiative also plans to "develop a plan to support problem properties," work with the Fitchburg Public Library to create a Shared Tool Library for residents to work on their homes and properties, and develop a "universal referral tool" for service providers.
Lastly, Skwierawski brought the conversation back to the importance of partnerships with other city organizations and with North of Main residents.
"We all need to be in this together if we're going to succeed," he said.
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