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Sheldon/Charter Oak Neighborhood Group Fighting For Its Llife

Hartford Courant

June 15, 2009

The Coalition to Strengthen the Sheldon/Charter Oak Neighborhood, one of Hartford's most effective and imaginative neighborhood organizations, is in danger of folding. That would be a terrible shame, and not just for the neighborhood.

Faced with a recession-driven decline in corporate and foundation support, the CSS/CON board has laid off its staff. Executive director Carol Coburn has stayed on as a volunteer to try to raise enough money over the summer to keep the organization going.

Sheldon-Oak is one of the poorer neighborhoods in the city, with a homeownership rate of 2 percent, yet it is one of the safest parts of Hartford. The low crime rate is largely due to the work CSS/CON leaders have done building strong relationships with Hartford police.

The group also has paid attention to how the neighborhood is developed. When the state was going to turn Columbus Boulevard into a highway, cutting off Adriaen's Landing from the downtown it was supposed to revitalize, CSS/CON led the charge to change the design to a pleasant urban boulevard. When the city proposed replacing the squalid Dutch Point housing project under the federal Hope VI program, Ms. Coburn took residents on tours of other housing developments. The folks loved the George Keller-designed homes on Columbia Street and urged the architects to use those as inspiration. The result was one of the most attractive Hope VI projects in the state, if not the country.

By making the neighborhood safe and attractive, CSS/CON protects the public investment there. With Coltsville poised to become a national park, there will be more investment to protect. The Capitol Region Education Council has 300 employees in the area, plus 500 visitors a day to its programs. Executive director Bruce Douglas said his organization "absolutely would not be in the neighborhood" but for the work CSS/CON has done.

Over the years, CSS/CON has been blessed with strong leaders, such as Bernadine Silvers and the late Linda Osten. It has engendered a sense of community. It did this with, at peak, two full-time and three part-time employees and a budget of less than $120,000. That was money well spent.

Perhaps, after things go well for a time, a group such as CSS/CON is taken for granted. It shouldn't be.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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