Fitchburg neighborhood group invests for local impact

Reimagine North of Main awards $50G in grants

By Anna Burgess, aburgess@sentinelandenterprise.com

UPDATED:   10/09/2015 06:53:12 AM EDT

FITCHBURG -- Local initiative ReImagine North of Main is putting their money where their mouth is, with an investment of almost $50,000 in eight projects to benefit the North of Main neighborhood.

On Thursday morning, ReImagine North of Main's leadership announced eight projects it will fund this year to further the goal of improving quality of life in the area north of Main Street.

"What we really want you to think about is, how can you line up so we're actually making change in this neighborhood," Marc Dohan, chairman of the nonprofit group, said during the announcement. "Not just how to make something happen, have more people read books or improve literacy, or build more housing projects, or make it an art-friendly community, but how is it going to add up to make the change really happen in the neighborhood?"

During the quarterly meeting of ReImagine North of Main's advisory committee, Project Manager Tom Skwierawski and Project Director Tricia Pistone announced eight grants being awarded this year to local organizations. They are the United Way of North Central Massachusetts, Fitchburg PRIDE, First Church of God in Christ, Growing Places, the Fitchburg Historical Society and the Revolving Museum.

Community partners represented at the meeting, in addition to grant recipients, included Twin Cities Community Development Corp., LUK Inc., Montachusett Opportunity Council, the Boys & Girls Club of Fitchburg and Leominster, Fitchburg Public Schools, the Fitchburg Art Museum, and Fitchburg State University.

The largest grant from the group is for $24,700, Skwierawski said, and was awarded to the Fitchburg Housing Department for the purchase of code-enforcement software.

Pistone explained that the software will digitally track the conditions of residential properties in the city, and ensure these properties are up to code.

ReImagine North of Main will also give $11,400 to the city's economic development department, which will be used to inventory and evaluate empty properties in downtown and North of Main areas.

"The inventorying will show us which spaces might be more usable in the near term," Economic Development Director Mary Jo Bohart said, "versus which ones might need a little more long-term investment before a restaurant or a business could go in there."

The remaining six projects will work with community partners, using mini-grant funding, to engage North of Main residents in everything from reading to gardening.

The project driven by the Fitchburg Historical Society will use $1,600 of funds to create and promote a historical walking tour in the North of Main area.

"It will reflect the community back at itself, so people living here now can connect themselves with the long-term history of the neighborhood," said Historical Society Director Susan Navarre at the Thursday meeting.

The Fitchburg PRIDE project will install several working, decorated pianos on Main Street, using $2,400 worth of funds.

In order to engage North of Main residents specifically, PRIDE Secretary Coelynn McIninch said, the organization will also use some of the grant money to help children in the neighborhood pay for piano lessons.

United Way of North Central Massachusetts, meanwhile, is using $1,000 to bring the national nonprofit Dolly Parton Imagination Library to the North of Main area. They will provide every participating child with one book per month from birth until age five.

The project orchestrated by the Revolving Museum and given $1,000 in funding will be an "art mobile" made of recycled trash.

Revolving Museum director Jerry Beck has been collecting trash in the North of Main neighborhood, said Skwierawski, and will use a device that warps the trash into sculptures. The sculptures will then be put together as one large, mobile sculpture.

Skwierawski praised Beck's ability to "bring art to the neighborhood, but also, going back to the key criteria of our initiative, to involve residents."

In a similar attempt to involve residents, Growing Places Outreach Coordinator Regina Connerty said her organization will use $2,050 and recruit residents to help plant fruit trees and berry bushes in the garden at the Sundial Apartments senior community.

"We will encourage residents to participate, not just in planting, but in the care of these fruits and vegetables," Connerty said.

Once the trees and bushes are fully grown, she added, they will provide fresh fruits and vegetables for neighborhood residents.

The last project will be a youth volunteering initiative led by First Church of God in Christ Youth Leader Ruby Hall, using $3,210 of funding.

Hall works with youth in the church community, and will use grant funds to run a program for youth to provide landscaping services to elderly North of Main residents.

"I thought if we can get out and help some of the people in the community, then the (students) will have pride in that," she said, "and the people that we're helping can see we're all connected."

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