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Center for Great Neighborhoods begins with great neighbors, finding strengths, and filling needs

By Maridith Yahl
NKyTribune reporter

The Center for Great Neighborhoods in Covington is improving lives and the community. Serving Covington residents since 1976, The Center has evolved from a direct service, social services agency to community development. Helping people find their strengths to better the community is at the heart of what they do.

Kate Green

Their philosophy is everyone has something to offer. Instead of looking for a need to fill, they ask what assets the residents have to contribute. The focus is on uniting the skills, talents, and passions to bring change. “[We ask] what will have a long-term effect and be more sustainable or systemic,” says Kate Greene, Associate Director.

Among their many programs and initiatives which residents improve their and their neighbor’s lives is health, including mental health.

“The focus of our health work is more creating a healthy environment, access to living a healthy life, and access to the right resources leading to a healthy life,” Greene says.

Located in the former Hellmann Lumber Mill on the Westside, their space is a community space. Community meeting rooms and artists’ studios along with their offices make up the Hellmann Creative Center. Building connections between neighbors, the center is one link to establishing good community mental health.

Meeting space

Supporting neighborhood associations and civic groups is one relationship building technique. The Center supports around 25 groups with technical assistance and resources. Staff from The Center attend meetings. They help shape and prioritize goals, work plans, identify resources, and just help them move forward with that shared vision,” says Greene. Community planning is the expertise and focus of The Center.

Residents are asked their ideas and aspirations. The Center assists them in realizing that vision. They develop a plan, identifying funding or write to partners. From there they move on to implementation and sustainability. “Helping groups realize their goals is something that we’re very good at,” Greene says.

“It’s a mental health thing,” says Greene. They work to make neighbors feel connected and have a sense of belonging. “If you have a good relationship with your neighbor, and you can help each other, if you have someone you could count on if you need something, building those connections are a big part of our work,” she says.

A home garden

Community Gardens have been part of The Center’s work since 1982. One garden The Center continues to manage is in the Westside, The Riddell-Yates Community Garden. Many residents have been using it for a long time. Greene says the houses there are often three stories and close together, limiting sun exposure on the back or side yards. Many residents use it as their main garden, gaining access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Residents renew each year with a minimal $10 fee. For the first 35 years of operation, it was free, but then the residents voted to implement the fee to save and have funds for any improvement projects. Upkeep and projects residents want to take on collectively are supported by The Center. One such recent project was creating a compost.

Other community gardens The Center began are now managed by their own neighborhood associations. The Eastside Redden Gardens and Orchard Park, both of which host urban chickens, are other great examples of community collaboration. What is a city owned green space, residents adopted and gave the name of Orchard Park. It has been a space for community gatherings, engagement, and has garden plots.

Gardens are created keeping in mind areas dealing with food insecurity. The Center tracks what areas have less access to the major grocery stores.

White board messaging

Because of COVID, this year they took another approach, designing their own spin-off of the Victory Gardens. It was important to continue to create social connections this year while maintaining physical distance. Greene says this was accomplished by 15 new home garden recipients being paired with a mentor. Neighbors texted photos with each other, asked questions, helped each other, and became friends.

Awarding small grants is another way they create community connections. Individuals are usually given $100-$250 to support their ideas to bring people together, Greene says. The community has been creative in coming up with ideas. She says residents have hosted events, created art, have had a neighborhood barbeques, or even held a three-on-three tournament.

Here was another challenge to bring neighbors together while maintaining physical distance.
Greene says one neighborhood used the grant to buy white boards with markers for all residents. They hung them on their door, placed them on their front porch, and wrote notes to each other. This really rallied the neighbors to help one another. “One person, when they put, ‘I need milk,’ someone dropped off milk,” says Greene. “People felt connected outside of just their Facebook group,” she says.

Creating a sense of belonging, community, and knowing there is support, helps make a community healthy. The Center asks the residents what they think will be beneficial and have them find ways to affect the lives of people who live in the community. Mental health is tied to community bonds. The Center for Great Neighborhoods is doing their part to make Covington a better place.

Maridith Yahl is the NKyTribune’s health reporter

Thanks to Report for America, with support from the Ground Truth Project, St. ELizabeth Healthcare, Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky and the Douglas G. Martin Foundation. You, too, can support this reporting and other NKyTribune reporting with a tax-deductible donation today. Help us continue to provide accurate, up-to-date local news and information you can depend on.

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