HAVERHILL — A successful outreach effort that has neighbors meeting neighbors in the Mount Washington neighborhood is one of the things that Federal Reserve Bank of Boston President Eric Rosengren learned about when he came to Haverhill on Thursday.
He was here to discuss efforts by the Mount Washington Alliance to improve the quality of life in that neighborhood and expand opportunities for education and employment for its residents.
Rosengren was informed about a "Quality of Life Campaign" the alliance launched in April. The campaign included holding Neighbor Nights every Wednesday evening throughout the months of May and June as a way for neighbors to get to know each other and build community.
"We presented a PowerPoint presentation on the campaign and how it has morphed to Neighbor Night 2.0, which had a soft launch this Wednesday," said John Cuneo, president and CEO of Community Action Inc. "These will happen every other Wednesday night beginning Aug. 1 and through September."
The alliance was formed in 2015, when its leaders applied for a grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Cities Challenge, which is designed to help people living in urban areas. The group was awarded a $475,000 grant in 2016, which is administered through Community Action Inc.
Mount Washington was identified by the Alliance and Community Action Inc. as the neighborhood of Haverhill with the greatest need. It has struggled in recent years with street crime and gang violence, including the shootings as Swasey Field, and is where local, state and federal authorities have recently cracked down on illegal guns.
Rosengren was joined by Haverhill community leaders on a bus tour, which he narrated, followed by a meeting at Fantini Bakery to discuss work to date, and plans moving forward.
Cuneo said the bus passed by four schools in the Mount Washington neighborhood: Consentino, Silver Hill, Bartlett and Tilton.
It also passed by Swasey Field and continued through the downtown, passing by GAR Park, Harbor Place, and where developer Sal Lupoli is planning to erect a 10-story mixed-use building that will also house Northern Essex Community College's new culinary arts program.
"We also passed by 301 Washington St., a vacant building where the alliance, Community Action and Urban Kindness are looking to transform into a maker space," Cuneo said, noting those groups are seeking funding to make that happen.
The Working Cities Challenge, a Boston Fed initiative that launched in 2013 in Massachusetts, is a grant competition designed to advance collaborative leadership in smaller, postindustrial cities to transform the lives of their low-income residents.
Rosengren and several other federal officials met with Cuneo, Mayor James Fiorentini, Northern Essex Community College President Lane Glenn, new Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce President Dougan Sherwood, state Reps. Andy Vargas and Linda Dean Campbell, City Councilor Melinda Barrett, new School Superintendent Margaret Marotta, Mount Washington Alliance Initiative Director Christine Soundara, several Mount Washington residents and others.
Vargas told The Eagle-Tribune that the Working Cities initiative has created an opportunity for stakeholders to come together to address challenges through concrete solutions for Mount Washington residents.
"I really enjoyed the opportunity to chat with President Rosenberg about how the majority of Americans live in small- to mid-sized cities like Haverhill, which means that if we can get it right in Haverhill, we have a model for the rest of the country," Vargas said.
Fiorentini called the event "inspiring."
"We will do whatever we can to help lift up this important part of our city," the mayor said.
Cuneo said the discussion touched upon education and employment activities such as the alliance collaborating with Valley Works to create more access to employment opportunities for neighbors, including helping to prepare them for job fairs and making job fairs more accessible.
"He was interested in hearing about the work we've done, and our focus on community engagement and the Quality of Life Campaign, which is different from what other communities are doing with their grants," Cuneo said.
Cuneo said Rosengren met and spoke with four Mount Washington residents, who shared their experiences attending Neighbor Nights.
"He said it was good to hear from residents on his tours as they don't often get to meet with him," Cuneo said.
Cuneo said the nature of the grant is to focus on changing how things happen and getting neighbors to participate more in civic life.
He said the grant money supports staffing, including paid outreach workers for the Neighbor Nights, and to pay Soundara and project coordinator Abigail Perez.