ioby’s Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge is launching loud and proud this week. We’re super excited to be partnering with the New York State Health Foundation (NYSHF) to support citizen leaders in nine neighborhoods and cities across New York as they take an active role in creating a culture of health where they live. Extra excitingly, the first $200 of each gift supporters like you make to their campaigns will be matched dollar-for-dollar by NYSHF through September 30!
Bringing the Peace and Building Community
“The way we perceive people is part of our mental health,” says Linda Kemp, leader of the Healthy Neighborhoods Challenge project Bringing The Peace and Building Community. “In our community, we need to get to know each other, to build bonds, so that misconceptions are dispelled.”
Bringing the Peace continues the beautification and community-building work Linda started in Drew Park, a playground near her home in the Claremont neighborhood of the Bronx, a few years ago. This past July, she organized a Bring the Peace basketball game, where neighborhood youth and officers from the 42nd Precinct faced off on the court. The youngsters won 54-50 and were naturally elated, but Linda says for the rematch she planned for August, she decided to mix the teams up. “The coach was mad at first, but I had to tell him gently, ‘No. We’re bonding here. We’re breaking barriers so we can have a healthier community. We’re not against each other; we have to learn to work together.’ And you know what? The kids and the police played so well together.” Linda says the officers brought the young players a new basketball, some “old timers” from the neighborhood joined in the game, and she got some new recruits for her park beautification efforts in the process.
“So now we need to sustain this success,” she says. “If you’re not persistent, it goes away.” Linda’s planning another community game for September or October, and will continue her park improvement efforts through the fall and winter with some bright-colored painting, new plantings, and a lot of mulch. “By the time we’re done, this place will look like Central Park!” she says.
Despite these great efforts, Linda sees many difficult issues in her community. “When my family moved here, the IRT Third Avenue Line was still up [this line ceased operation in 1973]. I still live here, but the psychology has changed. There’s a lot of mental illness now; people think there’s nothing to do and nowhere to go. I want to create ownership and bring community back; help us take some responsibility for our conditions, and make our neighborhood sustainable and enjoyable. This is our park! This is our community! These are our police! We can’t police our community without policing it together. We have to take care of each other first.”
There was a four-year period in Linda’s life in which she lost her husband, her grandfather, and a nephew, and her sister was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She had been part of a gardening program in her building, and seriously stepped up her involvement during this trying time. “I had to keep going,” she says. She and a few fellow tenants sought support from the New York Restoration Project, confronted the building’s management about its lack of investment, and “started turning the dirt.” “I put my hands in the earth like never before,” she says. “We turned a bunch of junk into a beautiful landscape. You wouldn’t even know you were in the Bronx! I never knew how therapeutic it was: pulling weeds and planting.”
Now Linda’s park volunteers come from all walks of life: young and old, police and residents, sometimes even people staying in transitional housing nearby. “They just start helping,” she says. “And then they start looking at things differently and realize that this is how it should be.”
Linda recently brought two classes from a local charter school to visit Drew Park. She talked with them about how being around nature can help them feel and act better. “I told them that all the emotions they have are normal,” she said. “But when you’re frustrated, you need to get that out in a healthy way. And we can do that with plants, by touching the soil, by watching seeds grow. I gave them all seedlings and a box of dirt and showed them what to do. They were ecstatic! They instantly recognized the stress relief. Kids today are subjected to so much stress. We don’t talk about that enough.”
“It warms my heart when I see people coming together and feeling part of the whole,” Linda says. “Officers, seniors, little kids… I like that feeling when we’re all together, when we remember what it’s like to be a whole community, to make that collective impact. That’s the best: when we can look around and see what we’ve done together.”
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.