Friday, November 16, 2012

Meeting Browntown

By the Browntown TSP Team

Three weeks ago, members of the Browntown Civic Association (BCA) welcomed our team of six Public Allies to their neighborhood.  Browntown is a contained, residential neighborhood in southwestern Wilmington, between Maryland Avenue and I-95, from 9th Avenue to Lower Oak Street.  It takes about five minutes to walk from one end to another, 20 to make a loop all the way around it.  We’ve been tasked with assisting the BCA to address the lack of activities and resources available to their youth.  According to Bernadette, our main contact from the BCA, the residents of Browntown often complain about how the kids hang out on their stoops and play on the corners.  Even though there are two parks along the edges of the neighborhood, Bernadette says the youth don’t know how to use them. 

We have a broad proposal about improving youth programming in Browntown. After our first meeting with the BCA, we were clear on the problems they wished to address: finding a physical space for the BCA and youth activities, securing funding, and giving the neighborhood youth something to do and somewhere to be other than playing on the street corners.  But we had no idea of what sort of solutions they wished to pursue, or how to make our impact on Browntown sustainable – an important buzzword in community development.  Our team spent a very frustrating Friday training trying to complete mapping activities for a project that we had not defined and a neighborhood that some of us had never seen. 

We were skipping steps.

We needed to meet the community first.

So we helped the BCA pass out candy on Halloween.  For some families, it was the only stop for trick-or-treating: parents noticed that most houses were dark and they didn’t want their children knocking on strangers’ doors.  They thanked Bernadette for providing a space for their children to enjoy Halloween.  As we gave candy to passing teddy bears, super heroes and one futuristic robot, we learned a lot about Browntown.  Like the fact that the local police force welcomes opportunities to engage with the neighborhood.  And that the desire for a safe space for the neighborhood youth is coming from the community as a whole.  We also learned about some obstacles that the BCA has faced in collaborating with other local organizations.

On Halloween, we started to meet Browntown.  It was a good first step – a needed one.  Now, with a walking tour of the neighborhood under our belt and focus groups planned for this coming week, we are looking forward to Step Two. 

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