Poverty and crime are two words that, unfortunately, have often defined Albany Avenue in Hartford's Clay-Arsenal neighborhood in recent years. Residents have dreamed of a day when the east-west artery would experience a renaissance.
Today change is increasingly evident, and the latest example is the opening of the fancy new $10.9 million Wilson-Gray YMCA Youth and Family Center at Albany Avenue and Brook Street.
The YMCA acted boldly when it closed its downtown Hartford branch next to Bushnell Park three years ago so that it could relocate to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the state to be closer to the people it wanted to serve.
The new facility hopes to lure neighborhood children and adults with an array of activities, including sports, a teen center, a computer room, a fitness studio, a climbing wall and Read to Succeed, a successful adult literacy program co-founded by The Courant.
Surely there will be challenges, including safety, but with neighborhood support, the Wilson-Gray building can become a safe zone, a welcoming place of pride, service and caring.
The YMCA deserves credit for making this move, which some might think was foolhardy. As Greater Hartford YMCA President Kevin Washington observed, "We're opening these doors ... in a neighborhood with the city's highest concentration of poor families." The worthy goal is to help children and adults grow closer and safer by developing self-esteem and leadership skills.
In recent years, residents and commuters who use Albany Avenue could not help but notice the start of a rebirth that includes construction of a University of Hartford performing arts center on the site of a former car dealership, a new home for the Artists Collective, several successful new businesses and the opening of Community Health Services, which is adjacent to the new YMCA building.
This is a golden opportunity for an esteemed nonprofit agency with a long track record of community service to make a vital difference in the life of an ailing, but recovering, neighborhood.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at