Six years ago, a group of 13 older adults participating in Leadership Greater Hartford’s Third Age Initiative formed a team committed to developing a project that would enhance the quality of life in a Hartford neighborhood.
This group, known as the “Neighborhood Gang,” included residents of Hartford, Wethersfield, West Hartford, East Hampton, Ellington, Glastonbury, Avon, Cromwell and Coventry. They discovered a tiny “pocket park” in the Clay Hill neighborhood long abandoned and ignored. The park also had a poignant history. Nearly 30 years ago a young boy, Julio Lozada, was injured and trapped in a building that had collapsed on the property. Emergency personnel were unaware that Lozada was underneath the wreckage of the building because of a language barrier between them and neighborhood residents. Lozada subsequently died of his injuries. The park was named Lozada Park in his memory, and an aggressive effort was begun to diversify Hartford’s force of first responders to reduce the chance of such a tragedy occurring again.
The Neighborhood Gang was inspired by the story and by the possibility of transforming this large, vacant lot with little positive use into a center for the neighborhood to gather safely, for children to play and for community to take root. They met with residents of the neighborhood and formed an alliance with the Latino Firefighters Association. They secured a grant from the Greater Hartford Jaycees and held neighborhood picnics where they learned what the residents would like the park to become. They hired a landscape architect to design a new park and they gulped at the price tag.
Together with their Latino Firefighters partners, they approached State Senator John Fonfara and shared their vision of Lozada Park. When the team assured the Senator that on-going neighborhood involvement would be a key factor in the transformation of the park, he encouraged the group to apply for state bonding. That was four years ago.
On May 30, 2008, legislation passed to provide $350,000 for the transformation of Lozada Park. Neighborhood residents, representatives of the Latino Firefighters Association and the Neighborhood Gang gathered on June 16 at Lozada Park and Senator Fonfara presented a symbolic check to celebrate the beginning of the project. “Dreams do come true,” said one team member. “Our prayers are answered,” said another. “Miracles really happen,” chimed in a third. “When do we get started?” asked another.
The project will be managed by the City of Hartford with the Latino Firefighters serving as the key organization overseeing the project. The Neighborhood Gang will assist in the planning and organizing, working with the neighbors and ensuring that their dream becomes reality. Groundbreaking is scheduled for early this summer, and ribbon cutting to open the transformed Lozada Park is scheduled for May, 2009.
The next class of the Third Age Initiative will begin in September. To date, more than 200 older adults have participated in the program; the transformation of Lozada Park is one of dozens of projects that engage them in meaningful change. To learn more about the program, contact Doe Hentschel at 860-951-6161 extension 13 or firstname.lastname@example.org.