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Neighborhood Connector: Vincent Derek Smith

The diverse neighborhoods of the City of Lancaster are unifying and organizing to improve the quality of life for their communities. They are forming committees, hosting block parties, cleaning up streets, planning public art initiatives, and communicating with neighbors to work together towards common goals. Each of these neighborhood groups have individuals who serve as connectors in their communities. Lancaster City Alliance is proud to shine a spotlight on them here.

Name: Vincent Derek Smith
Neighborhood Group: Crispus Attucks Community Center

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

I serve as liaison between the people and families of Southeast to connect them with community resources. I also  work with youth to help them identify and navigate barriers that may be holding them back to taking the next step in life.

As a neighborhood committee member, I discuss the needs of our community. This past holiday season, residents of Southeast Lancaster came together to celebrate their city, their neighborhoods, and their community. With the help of Crispus Attucks Community Center and the Community Action Partnership, Southeast Lancaster hosted the first annual Light Up Southeast. This event featured a large SOUTHEAST sign covered in lights, and a Southeast-wide house decorating contest, all culminating in the first-annual Southeast tree lighting ceremony that took place Saturday, December 16 at 6:00pm in the MLK plaza on the corner of Duke and North.

We have held community meetings at Crispus Attucks Community Center and had residents attend and discuss their concerns. I want residents to feel welcome at our meetings and talk about their concerns. I will continue to advocate for them, but my goal is to have more resident participation in all of the committees.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

Redevelopment:  The neighborhood understands that change is coming but they fear that change will happen without the input of the community it will affect.

Trust: The Southeast was a place where neighbors chatted over porch railings, sang in church choirs and patronized each other’s businesses, including corner groceries, barber shops, pharmacies, a dentist, a general practitioner, a soda fountain and Haddie’s sub shop.

Neighborhood pride was never greater than when bands and drill teams strutted down South Duke Street during the Conestoga Elks parade. Hundreds lined the sidewalks, many in their Sunday best.

It was a hard-working community that wanted better jobs and greater opportunity. Instead it got change it hadn’t sought: Demolition crews in the 1960s razed whole blocks of the Southeast — places where people with a range of incomes lived — to make way for public housing for thousands of Lancaster’s poorest residents.

The government called the initiatives of the 1960s “urban renewal.” But the Southeast experienced nothing of the sort. Instead, poverty only deepened, and neighborhood cohesiveness collapsed. The impact reverberates today.

“I felt like we lost a community,” said Betty Hurdle, 74, of Lampeter, who grew up in a Locust Street row home knocked down during urban renewal. “I feel like we were just erased.”

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

  • We have successfully held a Peace on The Street Block party for the past 4 years which is an event to provide the community with resources to prevent violence and increase peace. We team up with amazing organizations and dedicated community activists for our Peace on the Streets Block Party and to help make our local neighborhoods safer.
  • Halloween in the City: Halloween in the City is a fun, family event featuring bounce house , special entertainment, tasty treats, and the Trick-or-Treat Games: a safe, interactive trick-or-treating experience!
  • Coordinating food and holiday toy giveaway to resident across not just the Southeast but the county.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

Our neighbors are engaging in many community events that we do, from helping run games at the block party, passing out food at a community event.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

The secret to meeting new neighbors is talking to them at the corner store, while they sit on the porch or even when they are dropping off and picking up their kids from school.

Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

 I enjoy visiting the special event and activities that are going on in the neighborhoods and downtown, the atmosphere at each event is dynamitic to the neighborhood it is in.

#GiveEXTRA during the Extraordinary Give on November 16!

Did you know that Lancaster City Alliance is a non-profit organization? We are funded by the community we serve. Donations primarily go toward public safety, community development, and economic development initiatives for the City ensuring Lancaster is a clean, safe, and vibrant City for all.
We hope that you will consider supporting the mission of the Lancaster City Alliance during the #ExtraordinaryGive on Friday, November 16 at http://bit.ly/ExtraGiveLCA

Neighborhood Connector: Allyson Wells

The diverse neighborhoods of the City of Lancaster are unifying and organizing to improve the quality of life for their communities. They are forming committees, hosting block parties, cleaning up streets, planning public art initiatives, and communicating with neighbors to work together towards common goals. Each of these neighborhood groups have individuals who serve as connectors in their communities. Lancaster City Alliance is proud to shine a spotlight on them here.

Name: Allyson Wells
Neighborhood Group: Lancaster Lebanon Habitat for Humanity

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

Everyone deserves to have a safe, warm, dry—and most importantly—affordable place to call home. Affordable, stable housing impacts so many crucial factors of life: health, education, economic stability, safety, and self-reliance. I am so grateful to help my community members achieve this otherwise daunting goal of homeownership. In addition to our Homeownership Program, I am also excited to help keep homeowners in their homes through our new Home Repair Program and energize the community through our Neighborhood Revitalization efforts.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

Lancaster Lebanon Habitat for Humanity is incredibly grateful to be geographically located within the SoWe neighborhood and I’ve been honored to work arm-in-arm with our fellow organizations in the SoWe Collaborative. Being a Collaborative member has allowed us to expand our Neighborhood Revitalization program; we can now take our Habitat tools and work side-by-side our neighbors (some of which are Habitat homeowners!) to improve the entire neighborhood. A big challenge I see is ensuring that this neighborhood improvement is both equitable and sustained for generations to come.

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

Every day I am so lucky to feel the rewards of our team’s work—these rewards range from having a nice conversation with a community member while out canvassing, to as monumental as accepting a new family into our Homeownership program.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

Our most recent example was the kickoff celebration to our Neighborhood Revitalization efforts: ROCK THE BLOCK!  This event brought together approximately 120 volunteers (many of whom came from the SoWe neighborhood!), 12 repair project homeowners, 6 partner organizations, and a community-wide effort to beautify the neighborhood. While unfortunately the rain kept us from completing the repairs that day (sadly paint and rain don’t mix well), everyone was still incredibly enthusiastic to roll up their sleeves for street cleanup. With our community’s help, we were able to pick up over 80 bags of street trash from SoWe! It was really powerful to facilitate an opportunity to have neighbors helping neighbors.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

Upon entering Lancaster’s nonprofit community, both professionally and personally, I was incredibly lucky to be surrounded with such kind and caring individuals; they never hesitated to make an introduction on my behalf and were always quick to share a warm word of welcome. I strive every day to keep passing on that sentiment and gratitude to my fellow community members!

Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

While free time is sparse in our double nonprofit household, I love walking around Lancaster City with my husband and our sweet little beagle, Newt. And naturally it goes without saying—THE FOOD!

Neighborhood Connector: Loretta Pagan-Crespo

The diverse neighborhoods of the City of Lancaster are unifying and organizing to improve the quality of life for their communities. They are forming committees, hosting block parties, cleaning up streets, planning public art initiatives, and communicating with neighbors to work together towards common goals. Each of these neighborhood groups have individuals who serve as connectors in their communities. Lancaster City Alliance is proud to shine a spotlight on them here.

Name: Loretta Pagan-Crespo
Neighborhood Group: Community Connector and SoWe

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

I serve as liaison between the people and families of SoWe to connect them with community resources. I work with residents to identify and navigate barriers that may be holding them back to taking the next step in life whether that is employment, education, or access to transportation. As a neighborhood committee member, I discuss the needs of our community. During the first phase of the South West Revitalization implementation, I conducted surveys in the SoWe area and I was able to bring back neighborhood concerns to the committee. I brought those concerns back to the committee and we began discussions on how to address these issues. We held community meetings at Culliton Park and had residents attend and discuss their concerns. I want residents to feel welcome at our meetings and talk about their concerns. I will continue to advocate for them but my goal is to have more resident participation in all of the committees.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

They don’t trust that change will come. They don’t feel their voices are going to be heard and some residents don’t feel comfortable talking in a committee meeting setting. Challenges in our neighborhood include:
Safety- Residents complain about drug dealers and drug users in their neighborhoods and the increase in crime. Some residents live in unsafe and rundown apartments and houses, but it is all they can afford. They do not have the resources to move to a better area. The Lancaster City Police has made a user friendly brochure for Lancaster City residents. There are many ways to contact them.
Transportation- many residents do not have reliable transportation and are unable to apply for higher pay rate jobs. Some residents have criminal records and can’t drive because their license has been suspended. Some people can’t afford car insurance, premiums are too high or their cars need repairs.
Employment– Education, language, work shifts/hours, child care and distance to job site is a barrier for some residents. We have had an influx of immigrants and people affected by hurricanes and oppression in other countries. Many of these people need better training on living in America. They receive a certain level of help but then are left to fend for themselves in a country they know nothing of.
Access to Resources– Some of my residents have used the system over and over again.  So, then they are living without water or heat or light. Some do not comply with the requirements to receive services and others have used the system and have burned their bridges. They are unable to get help with child care, food stamps, nutritional meals, housing, minimum wage jobs and criminal records.

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

○ We have had success putting together block parties and engaging residents of the community.
○ Watching kids play on the basketball court knowing we are going to improve the appearance of Culliton Park. Hosting Easter Egg Hunt and giving out hot chocolate and candy on Halloween night.
○ I was able to help out a young man who is trying to further his education so he can care for his young daughter. He had just kept running into road block after road block. But, he kept pushing forward and with my help and many around him, he was able to jump a hurdle.
○ A family fled to the United States on a political asylum from Cuba to come to a place where they didn’t understand the way of life here. They had to learn how to use our currency. They are learning to navigate in a new city. They are learning a new language but most of all, they are learning to live in a different world of their own. They came to me by chance. I was hosting an event with the Boys & Girls Club and I was able to connect with this family and give them some of resources that will help them adjust to a new life.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

This past August we hosted a National Night Out event. The neighborhood committee and other community residents helped plan and organize a night where residents could come outside and get to know each other. There were so many families with their kids participating in the different activities. Residents brought food (sort of a pot- luck) in addition to our hotdogs and refreshments.  We gave out over 180 back packs filled with school supplies to kids in the neighborhood (Courtesy of the Riverside Camping Association). We had other community organizations participate and share their information with families. There was such a great BUZZ that night. The Mayor and other local officials came to support the community and the neighborhood welcomed them with open arms.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

Taking the time to knock on doors and have face to face contact. I meet many of our residents in the area at the Boys & Girls Club on Water St.  Some days I will meet and greet the parents and kids when they are arriving and leaving the club. I would start conversations and tell parents my role in the community and it sparks a conversation. We have our neighborhood, “Welcome Wagon”, which does a fantastic job welcoming new neighbors.

Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

I love to go to downtown Market. I like walking around at market and checking out all the different vendors. I like to see the variety of people who come to market. I enjoy watching softball games at Water St. Field/Culliton Park.

 

The Neighborhood Connectors

The diverse neighborhoods of the City of Lancaster are unifying and organizing to improve the quality of life for their communities. They are forming committees, hosting block parties, cleaning up streets, planning public art initiatives, and communicating with neighbors to work together towards common goals. Each of these neighborhood groups have individuals who serve as connectors in their communities. Lancaster City Alliance is proud to shine a spotlight on them here.

Neighborhood Connector: Nate Roach

The diverse neighborhoods of the City of Lancaster are unifying and organizing to improve the quality of life for their communities. They are forming committees, hosting block parties, cleaning up streets, planning public art initiatives, and communicating with neighbors to work together towards common goals. Each of these neighborhood groups have individuals who serve as connectors in their communities. Lancaster City Alliance is proud to shine a spotlight on them here.

Name: Nate Roach
Neighborhood Group: SoWe

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

I’ve only lived in the Southwest for about 7 years now, so I still feel a bit like a
newcomer. What I’ve always been able to see though is that it’s a fantastic
community and a wonderful place to live. My wife and I chose to start and raise
our family here. I believe in the power of community, and as a member of the
SoWe board I place a high priority on finding ways to bring people together to
learn and live alongside one another.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

With all the good publicity that Lancaster has received in the last few years, it’s
started to become a much more desirable place to live. That’s not necessarily a
bad thing, but as property values increase so does the cost of living. SoWe has not
been immune to that, so one of the biggest challenges has been to find ways to
ensure that our neighborhood remains a place where families from all economic
backgrounds can live. It’s a complicated problem, but I’ve been impressed by the
work SoWe and its partners have done so far, and am proud to be a part of that
work now.

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your
Group:

I’m still a fairly new member, but already I’ve met some really wonderful people.
I’ve found in the past that being part of a group of people all working towards a
common goal has the great side effect of building lasting relationships, and I
expect that working with SoWe will be no different.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

Once, a few years ago back in 2016 I believe, we experienced a huge snow storm.
The snow came down so heavy and so fast that it made it so that the plows could not
get through many of the streets in our neighborhood. Our block on Saint Joseph was one of those blocks. After a day or two of not being able to go anywhere, a couple people came out of their houses and just started shoveling the street by hand. Before long the whole block was out helping, and in a matter of hours we had cleared the street and were able to get all of our cars out. I’ll never forget that. I’ve rarely seen a community come together and pull off what initially seemed like such an overwhelming task.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

I don’t think there is a secret, or if there is I haven’t learned it. The most important thing is to step outside of your comfort zone consistently and often, and to pay attention to what’s going on around you. I’m not any better at neighboring than anyone else honestly – my sometimes-introverted nature can make it difficult to be brave and put myself out there. I’m an observer and tend to try and soak information in, so being someone who can communicate what I’ve learned is one tactic I use to try and be a good neighbor.

Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

There’s so much to do in Lancaster, but finding good food and drink is by far one of my favorite things about living here. Whether it’s a date night with my wife or a night out with friends, there are so many fantastic options. I pride myself on being someone who can always tell you where to find a good beer.

Neighborhood Connector: Jake Thorsen

The diverse neighborhoods of the City of Lancaster are unifying and organizing to improve the quality of life for their communities. They are forming committees, hosting block parties, cleaning up streets, planning public art initiatives, and communicating with neighbors to work together towards common goals. Each of these neighborhood groups have individuals who serve as connectors in their communities. Lancaster City Alliance is proud to shine a spotlight on them here.

Name: Jake Thorsen
Neighborhood Group: SoWe

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

My work as the SoWe Neighborhood Director is important because I work with the residents of SoWe to implement the Southwest Neighborhood Revitalization Strategy. I provide support to the SoWe initiative to carry out the vision set forth by the residents of the Southwest. I try my hardest to facilitate leadership among residents to lead the change in SoWe.  I also work with partner organizations to bring resources into the neighborhood that historically have not been here. The list of residents and partners who have stepped up and committed to stemming the tide of disinvestment in the neighborhood is nothing short of inspiring.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

A current challenge I am facing in my role is making sure all voices in the neighborhood are heard. I am constantly looking for new ways to engage residents so SoWe goals are aligned with the wishes of the community. When new programs are rolled out in SoWe we want to be confident they are benefiting our residents – we do this through our resident let board and committee structure who create, debate, and approve new programs. I hope for a SoWe where we feel safe to share our concerns about the neighborhood and confident in the solutions we generate together.

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

Everyone in our community has attributes and assets that can be used to better the community. The most rewarding part being a part of the SoWe initiative is watching neighbors grow to become neighborhood leaders and reaching their full potential. It is also rewarding to listen our neighbors’ stories and their vision of the neighborhood.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

In SoWe, we have seen the neighbors grow into a cohesive and organized unit. This neighborhood has done it all, from organizing a resident board of directors to throwing block parties. Our committees are made up of residents and stakeholders; they work on issues and goals relating to housing, economic opportunity, parks and the public realm, neighborhood connections, education, and community safety. Our board and committees meet monthly to propel the goals outlined in the SouthWest Revitalization Strategy and address concerns in the neighborhood.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

I greet everyone I pass on the street so neighbors new and old feel welcome. I try to be approachable and available to all neighbors. Another secret is not so secret, free food always works to bring new neighbors in.

The neighborhood by nature is transient so our Neighborhood Connections committee is working hard on strategies to identify when new neighbors move into the area so they can be properly welcomed into SoWe.

Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

As a new home owner, my favorite activity in the city right now is working on the house with my fiancée Susannah.

 

 

Neighborhood Connector: Kevin Ressler

Name: Kevin M Ressler
Neighborhood Group: Southeast Unity; Elm Street Project, Meals on Wheels

Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:

Communities thrive when they come together to share in their strengths. A neighborhood that is just a collection of people living close, without relationship, is a hotel. I love seeing a neighbor helping someone whose car is in a fender bender, or helping someone get their groceries inside, or just being kind.

My part has been to use my social resources and understanding of the way power gets used and abused through activism to speak for my neighbors who don’t have the time or opportunity to speak out when something wrong is happening in the community. And it’s important because that’s my part just as my at-home neighbors like Melinda or Max’s part is letting me know of suspicious activity around my house while I’m at work with Meals on Wheels of Lancaster, which is also an important part of ours and every neighborhood in how we can show up for neighbors who cannot get out.

Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:

Gentrification is occurring rapidly across Lancaster. With renaissance and rejuvenation of cities (all cities, not just Lancaster) comes displacement and disenfranchisement. This naturally, but not healthily, leads to decisions around how communities are policed, prioritized, and perceived. There are not enough voices from my part of town, the racial demographics of my part of town, or the economics of my part of town involved officially in the processes of power. Too often, when people are invited in to represent the neighborhood they are still those amongst us who are well connected or wealthy or both. Or, they are people who used to live here a decade or more ago. It is really important that people are not just seen and spoken of but are invited and listened to.

What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:

I’m always impressed with people who have been rooted in this community not just for years or decades but generations. The way people talk about individuals here isn’t as transactional as many other communities I operate in throughout my day, they are relational. They relate to “when this happened” or “when they did this.”

They are also historical. One of the things about the Southeast is it feels more historical than other neighborhoods. There is a long history here, too often painful. And people feel it acutely and it influences their caution when “development” comes to the neighborhood because they’ve had broken promises before. When someone returns to build a park, people remember when they left. When someone promises better policing, they remember when there were different rules for different parts of town. People remember not philosophically bur personally the urban renewal policy decisions that felt criminal to people who lost not only their home but their doctor and lawyer and favorite shop.

Where is the reward? The reward comes in being a translator. Living in this part of town helps me know personally those who remain. Those who didn’t leave when others fled because they wanted to make an impact. Connecting with those living legends and also working with those who have power now can be a trust builder and a BS barometer. I’m grateful to be a new generation mindful of the old generation’s story and working with friends and collaborators like David Cruz, Jr. and Tanay Lynn Harris who are torchbearers raised upon the legacies and good work of their parents and grandparents revolutionary civil rights action.

Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?

When it was announced that our District Magistrate was going to be closed the community banded together and took up the call to make a noise that could not be unheard. Signs were bought, meetings were attended, and many of us met frequently to figure response. While there were differences of opinion on strategy one thing remained: our community more than any other in Lancaster requires proximity to its MDJ and we would take the fight to whatever heights required. And we won. They didn’t close the magistrate. The next time they come to take it away we can ask, “have you yet solved our lacking public transportation?” If the structural barriers haven’t been addressed than our community should not be further punished with inadequate resourcing.

What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?

This is one of the hardest things to do in part because our community moves a lot. We have many refugees who are settled here. Our community is one where people start out and move when they can buy a house instead of renting. Still, something Melissa and I have been glad to take part in is a community garden. Tim and Sonya Charles lived on our block and attended In The Light Ministries. They asked their church if we could create a community garden intended to welcome local refugees through partnership with at Tabor Community Services and Church World Service.

And I think this is key. You have to not only work in isolation but partnership with organizations and individuals who have vested interest in the success of the neighborhood. It can’t just be about the politics of it, how it looks when talking about it in an interview like this one, or driven by guilt that someone else is lower on the wrung than you. I’ve gotten to know neighbors like Troy and Michelle who have moved out, and some who stay. I’ve watched as people who have come to the neighborhood like our neighbors Nick and Erin Myers quietly keep the garden up more than I could dream of doing. It’s a new way to interact with our neighbors who are also our tenants Jazzy and Karen. And it’s a great opportunity to call up In The Light at least once a year and say, “hey, we appreciate you as a neighbor, can we use your land again?”

 

Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:

You think of phrases like “concrete jungle” when talking about cities. Lancaster doesn’t feel like that and it’s great that no matter who we are visiting anywhere in this city there is a park somewhere nearby to take Acacia (4 years old) and Iriana (1 year old). Now, if only we could do something about the mosquito problem in this city it would be great to enjoy the playset in our own back yard!

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