A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

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 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 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, help shape and prioritize goals, work plans, identify resources, and help them move forward with that shared vision.

Residents are asked their ideas and aspirations. Together, they develop a plan, identify 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.”

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. Greene says the houses there are often three stories and close together, limiting sun exposure on the back or side yards. Many residents use the community garden 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 site.

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

Gardens are aimed at dealing with food insecurity. The Center tracks areas that have less access to the major grocery stores.

White board messaging

Because of COVID, they have also designed spin-off Victory Gardens. It was important to continue to create social connections while maintaining physical distance. Greene says this was accomplished by 15 new home garden recipients being paired with a mentor who advised the new gardeners.

Awarding small grants is another way to create community connections. Individuals are offered $100-$250 to support their ideas to bring people together, Greene says. The community has been creative in coming up with ideas — like hosting events, creating art, or having neighborhood barbecues and tournaments.

Greene says one neighborhood used the grant to buy white boards with markers for all residents. They hung them on doors and placed them on front porches, then wrote notes to each other. This really rallied the neighbors to help one another.

“When one person wrote ‘I need milk,’ someone dropped off milk,” says Greene. “People felt connected outside of just their Facebook group.”

Creating a sense of belonging helps make a community healthy. 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.

Click here to donate now!

Related Posts

Leave a Comment