United States of America

Interviewing Neighbors During COVID Brought Her Light “When Things Seemed So Dark.”

Interviewing Neighbors During COVID Brought Her Light “When Things Seemed So Dark.”

Just like everywhere else, COVID-19 came to the small town of Leverett, Massachusetts. And when the town went into lockdown, Jinny Savolainen wanted to do something meaningful. Quarantine was especially isolating for her. In 2019, Jinny lost her daughter. And when the pandemic hit, she lost her job. So, she sent an email to the town listserv asking if anyone wanted to record remote StoryCorps interviews about their life during COVID. StoryCorps is an organization whose mission is to record, preserve, and share the stories of Americans from all backgrounds and beliefs. These Leverett stories were then broadcast on NationalPubicRadio.

Portia Weiskel, a beloved town fixture for more than 50 years spoke with Jinny about a quirky quarantine tradition of a weekly howl at the Leverett Pond that started in lockdown and can be heard throughout the town. Mary Hankinson, a nurse at a long-term care facility, realized when the pandemic first hit how hard it was to access personal protective equipment. She coordinated a group of almost a dozen women who volunteered to make masks. They were hung on a rack outside the post office, where anyone could pick one up for free. Hundreds of these masks were made.

Image from Storycorps

Jinny states “I believe our grandchildren [and] great-grandchildren will want to know how we fared during this pandemic,” “I think they will be in awe of the way Leverett has come together, in the kindest, most humble of ways.” What started with one email ended in a collection of over a dozen interviews.Taken together, these conversations paint a picture of small town life and community during an unprecedented time. As Jinny put it, “Just when things seemed so dark, I found some light in the words of the people all around me.”

Story shared by Tom Wolff, from Massachusetts, USA.

More info here or at tom@tomwolff.com

Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions
Farming in the City

Farming in the City

Many low-income neighborhoods lack nearby sources of fresh food. Frequently there are no large markets in the vicinity; residents must rely on foods available in smaller stores, which are generally less healthy and more expensive.

One strategy for addressing this issue is to persuade more markets to locate in the area – but often that’s hard. A different strategy is to teach residents how to grow their own food, right where they live. That’s the mission of the Urban Farming Institute (UFI), a Boston-based nonprofit that not only teaches farming skills, but also how to set up urban farming businesses.

Image retrieved from pixabay

UFI manages seven farms in Boston city, in the middle of low-income neighborhoods. Every summer, it runs two distinct courses: a 9-week course in basic food systems, and a 20-week hands-in-the-ground course in urban farmer training. Both fill up regularly. Each year 700 trained volunteers come to help do the planting, harvesting, and other farm work.

Over the years, additional program features have been developed: a separate Young Farmers Program; a virtual farm stand; public lectures, workshops, and discussions; videos; and sales to numerous restaurant partners. UFI is growing, and it is thriving.

To build strong communities, it helps to strengthen residents’ abilities to address and meet their own needs — and there’s no more basic need than food. UFI has shown how this can be done despite limited funds, but with a clear sense of purpose, a committed staff team, strong organizational skills, and the provision of meaningful benefits; food you can eat.

UFI believes that “any location can be a place where food is grown for local consumption, local sales and local distribution.” When this happens, economic inequities are reduced, and we have made progress toward a just and sustainable society.

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions
Children’s Leadership at Racial Justice Demonstrations

Children’s Leadership at Racial Justice Demonstrations

Children, and particularly children of color, are often those most impacted by injustice. But children have both feelings and opinions; and even young children can be quite capable of speaking out and acting in their own behalf.

Several recent worldwide demonstrations for racial justice have featured children, as participants, marchers, speakers, and sometimes leaders. Examples are a Children’s March in Brooklyn, New York, and a Peaceful Children’s March in Boston. In Brooklyn, according to news reports, “Dozens of children, from preschoolers to teens, took turns speaking at the podium, some using a step stool so the crowd could see them.”

Picture by Nick Sansone for The New York Times

It is difficult to measure exact outcomes of activities such as demonstrations, because their effects cannot easily be separated from other events. But some indicators of success are the media coverage that such events have drawn, which also calls attention to the strengths of children; these are both positive effects in themselves. An additional likely positive effect is the empowerment of the children who participated.

Children can be positive agents of social change. They are not just people to be loved and cared for, or future activists in training, but bona fide community assets who can be activated and empowered for causes that affect them and they believe in.

Too often, their strengths are under-utilized. But in the strong words of a Boston child demonstrator: ” I am a force that you can’t hold back. I am young. I am educated and I am proud to be Black. So the only thing I have to say to you is this: ‘Be prepared to be uncomfortable.'”

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions
Haiku on the Bike Trail

Haiku on the Bike Trail

A paved trail runs through a suburban town near Boston. It is popular both for commuting to work and for recreational uses, such as bicycling, walking, and jogging; it’s used by thousands of people every day.
Some artists in town realized that the asphalt pavement on the trail could be a good location for art, for it was highly visible, eye-catching, and unusual. So they started a Bikeway Haiku contest – an open competition in which residents were encouraged to submit haiku (a Japanese style of poetry, with 17 syllables). The winning entries would be painted directly on the pavement.

Image retrieved from Arlington Public Art

Over 460 entries were received. Of these, 111 haiku were selected for installation. Two samples:

Are you still seeking?
This is the asphalt speaking.
Keep up the good work!

Hope for bicycling
Humbly gets us around town
While saving our world.

Volunteers painted the poems, using stencils, at individually-designated locations on the miles-long trail. Eventually rain and weather eroded the paint, which was expected at the beginning, since this was not meant to be a permanent installation.

The bikeway haiku were a source of pleasure to those cycling or walking by. Part of artistic creativity is deciding where the art can have the most impact; in this case, the planners chose their location well.

More generally, art can be a powerful community-building tool. It can elevate the spirit, and create connections between people through their shared experience. The Bikeway Haiku project also illustrates that art can be part of everyday life, available to everyone, and should not simply be reserved for galleries or museums.

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions
Making Sure Kids Get Fed during School Closures

Making Sure Kids Get Fed during School Closures

Food service professionals and other community members are stepping forward to ensure no child goes hungry. Millions of kids across the US rely on school meals for essential nutrition. Communities are getting creative; some schools are delivering meals or hosting meal drive-throughs for families. Learn more about these efforts in this article from Voices for Healthy Kids

Image retrieved from Voices for Healthy Kids

Story from the USA.

Read more here or at the Community Tool box.

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Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions
Kansans Turn To Each Other For Help During Coronavirus Outbreak

Kansans Turn To Each Other For Help During Coronavirus Outbreak

In Kansas, there were several examples of Mutual Aid Networks and about restaurants providing free meals for those in need.

“After one crowded lunch service, Heriford said, she could no longer justify the risk to her staff or customers. The restaurant closed March 14, though she and a small number of staff haven’t stopped working. The Ladybird is offering free bagged lunches for anyone who needs them. Heriford buys the food from her usual distributor, prepares it and leaves it on carts in front of the restaurant.”

Picture by Nomin Ujiyediin, Kansas News Service

Story from the USA.

Read more here or at the Community Tool box

Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions
The Digital Book Garden

The Digital Book Garden

Public libraries are storehouses of books and educational materials, but also often community gathering places– usually a good thing. But in times of pandemic, those same libraries are places that need to be avoided. So how can libraries serve their public while their buildings are physically closed? Here’s one of many examples: The Norwood Public Library, in a suburb near Boston, established a “digital book garden.” Library visitors find signs outside the building with the name of a book and a QR code (a two-dimensional barcode). By pointing your smartphone at the code, you can download an eBook or audiobook.

The Norwood Public Library

This and other electronic innovations have proven popular. The Norwood library reports a doubling of its digital resources since the physical library was closed. And other area libraries have reported a doubling of electronic library card sign-ups in recent months.

When faced with adversity, libraries, as well as other institutions and organizations, must find new ways to serve the general public, regardless of economic status or other conditions. And especially in times of pandemic, when more people are confined to home and fewer stores are open, the dual desires to escape from daily life and to learn new things are both stronger than ever. We may therefore expect more such creative initiatives, largely focusing on electronic resources, in the future.

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions
Laughter in a Time of Crisis

Laughter in a Time of Crisis

The city of Juneau, in the U.S. state of Alaska, normally has a hiking hotline for those seeking volunteer-led walks in the area. But when the pandemic struck, hiking programs were suspended. The hotline might have been suspended too, but local officials had a very different idea. They decided what was needed in this challenging time were some light-hearted moments, and a chance to laugh. So they turned their hiking phone number into a laugh line. Anyone who called heard a pre-recorded joke, usually with a bad pun. Example: “What kind of music is scary for balloons?” “Pop music!”

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio

According to reports, the new laugh hotline was an immediate success — so much so that the line became overloaded. And suggestions for jokes have been received from across North America.

This example shows that it’s possible to turn a difficult situation into something positive and beneficial It does take creativity, and the ability and willingness to go beyond usual boundaries. It was surprising that the laugh line attracted so many people. But in a stressful time, laughter is a good coping tool, which helps people stay connected. And people need to laugh. In the words of a local parks and recreation employee, “After all, laughter is the best medicine.”

To hear a joke on the hotline, call (907) 586-0428. To submit a joke for hotline consideration, contact Parks.rec@juneau.org.

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, United States of America.

More info here or at Bill_Berkowitz@uml.edu

Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions
Do-It-Yourself Lowell

Do-It-Yourself Lowell

Several years ago, a young couple moved to the mid-sized city of Lowell, Massachusetts. They became attracted to the city’s diversity and spirit, and soon wanted to give something back to their new community. But without money or special expertise, what could they do?

Lowell (Mass, USA), City of Lights Parade

After some thought, they hit upon the concept of “Do-It-Yourself Lowell.” Its goals were to generate ideas for community events and projects and work together on them. By so doing, they could also create lasting civic improvements, enhance civic engagement skills, and build diversity.

The concept itself was very simple. Any resident could submit a community idea, and other residents would vote for the best. The winning ideas would receive funding leads and guidance, technical assistance, and publicity for community volunteers to transform the idea into reality.

Do-It-Yourself Lowell soon caught on; it has received hundreds of community-building suggestions, many of which can be found on its website, and some of which have been put into practice. Some examples: a mobile bike repair truck, a traditional medicine festival, a children’s tea party, a Quarantine Café (following the coronavirus outbreak).

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz, USA.

To learn more, contact at www.diylowell.org

Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions
6 Feet at 6PM

6 Feet at 6PM

During the coronavirus outbreak in early 2020, my own community near Boston, like a great many others, strongly encouraged residents to stay inside their homes. Not surprisingly, community members wanted to find ways to have visible contact with others, even if they couldn’t meet directly with them in person.

Aerial view of Arlington by Juhan Sonin

Some planners in town proposed an idea they called “6 Feet at 6PM.” Neighbors on a street were encouraged to come outside their homes at 6:00 every evening, to wave, greet each other, and talk while maintaining a distance of six feet or more. This would be a safe and healthy way to maintain social contact under new and challenging circumstances.

According to local reports, many streets in town adopted this idea, some of them quite enthusiastically. Residents clearly seemed to have a strong desire for personal social contact.

While it’s too early at this writing to know whether it will persist, the “6 Feet at 6PM” initiative is a good example of a creative response to a crisis situation. It satisfies a basic human need, it’s easy to do, it costs nothing, and it’s very adaptable to other community settings, perhaps including the reader’s own.

Story shared by Bill Berkowitz.

To learn more contact Kelly Lynema, Arlington (Massachusetts) Department of Planning and Community Development, at klynema@town.arlington.ma.us.

Posted by Cinzia Albanesi in New Bank for Community Ideas and Solutions