Community Progress Welcomes 2022 Community Revitalization Fellows from New York, Pennsylvania, and Puerto Rico

May 24, 2022

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The Center for Community Progress announces the selected fellowship cohorts for this year’s Community Revitalization Fellowship. 

WASHINGTON, D.C. – May 24, 2022 – The Center for Community Progress (Community Progress) is honored to share the participants for the 2022-23 Community Revitalization Fellowship (CRF). Cohorts of grassroots community leaders from Syracuse, New York; Braddock/East Pittsburgh/North Braddock (BEN), Pennsylvania; and Loíza, Puerto Rico will collectively learn revitalization strategies for neighborhoods struggling with vacancy, abandonment, and disinvestment.

The Community Revitalization Fellowship equips fellows to better advocate for and lead change that improves vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties through creative placemaking. The fellowship will also build the capacity of a key institutional partner in each community to provide ongoing local support to the fellows and their neighborhoods.

“These resident-leaders have already done incredible work to address vacancy and abandonment in their own neighborhoods,” said Dr. Akilah Watkins, CEO and president of Community Progress. “We are excited to help them increase the effectiveness of their neighborhood interventions and build and strengthen relationships with each other and their local partners.”

About the Community Revitalization Fellowship

Community Progress’ Community Revitalization Fellowship is a learning opportunity for participating fellows to gain knowledge about neighborhood stabilization and revitalization strategies, tools, and systems.

Each year, six resident leaders from three communities (eighteen people in total) are selected as fellows. These cohorts participate in learning exchanges in each other’s communities that feature a mix of technical and leadership trainings as well as local neighborhood tours. Through involvement in the program, each cohort will become better equipped to advocate for and lead change that improves vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated (VAD) properties.

Over the course of the fellowship, residents will learn to better lead community-based efforts to improve VAD properties, specifically through the practice of creative placemaking.

Syracuse, New York

In Syracuse, New York, fellows will build upon creative placemaking efforts which highlight the diverse communities and cultures that call the historically redlined communities of the Northside, Southside, and Westside home. Their existing initiatives include the Sankofa District, a stretch of Salina Street that was rebranded by the city in 2015 to pay respect to those displaced from the historically Black 15th Ward, as well as the Salt City Market and Westside Gateway Projects.

The institutional partner for the Syracuse CRF Fellows is the Greater Syracuse Land Bank, which works to return vacant, abandoned, underutilized, and tax-delinquent properties to productive use in ways that support the community’s vision for its future. The land bank acquires and stabilizes properties, markets them to responsible buyers for redevelopment, and assembles larger parcels for long-range redevelopment plans.

We are honored to have Syracuse selected to participate in the Center for Community Progress’ Community Revitalization Fellowship Program,” said Katelyn Wright, Executive Director at the land bank. “This is a great opportunity for our team of resident leaders to learn from other communities and experts, to bring good ideas home to Syracuse, and to work with neighbors to develop a project that will beautify and engage the community.”

The Syracuse fellows are:  

  • Patrona Jones‐Rowser
  • Oceanna Fair
  • David Haas
  • Rasheada Caldwell
  • Syeisha Byrd
  • Ed Griffin‐Nolan

Loíza, Puerto Rico

In Loíza, Puerto Rico, fellows have worked to transform a vacant public school into Community Center Emiliano Figueroa Torres, a gathering place for the Torrecilla Baja neighborhood. The former school houses community-led programs focused on passing on Puerto Rican culinary and cultural heritage through distribution of hot meals and by providing educational tutoring to local youth which incorporates local music and dance. Fellows have also organized the creation of murals on the school’s exterior which reflects the neighborhood’s culture and identity.

The fellows will build on existing work in institutional partnership with the Center for Habitat Reconstruction (CRH). CRH is the only 501(c)(3) in Puerto Rico dedicated to leveraging vacant and abandoned properties as assets for building sustainable communities. By executing a model rooted in citizen participation and access to social justice, their interdisciplinary team partners with community-based and nonprofit organizations and other stakeholders to design and facilitate nuisance abatement and land use planning processes.

“The CRH team is pleased and honored to join as an institutional partner in the Community Revitalization Fellowship 2022-23 to assist community leaders of Loíza in their creative placemaking efforts, which are a result of the successful rescue of an abandoned public local school,” shared Michelle Alvarado-Lebrón, Community Environmental Lawyer at CRH. “CRH, together with the Emiliano Figueroa Community Center in Loíza, hopes to shine light on how Puerto Rico is rising to leverage vacant and abandoned properties as assets for building resilient communities.”

The Loíza fellows are:  

  • Yolanda Pizarro
  • Tanisha Gaspar
  • Maria Carrasquillo
  • Shantille Quiñones
  • Ingrid Pérez
  • Omar Paris

Braddock/East Pittsburgh/North Braddock (BEN), Pennsylvania

In BEN, Pennsylvania; fellows’ work envisions a clean energy future through art and placemaking in communities once known for their role in steel production. These initiatives have worked with local youth to reenvision vacant properties into community gathering spaces and design a new park which utilizes recycled materials. Fellows have also created art installations on vacant land which highlight the need for clean energy in a community with high levels of exposure to air particulate and asthma.

The institutional partner for the BEN fellows is Grounded Strategies. Decades of deindustrialization, suburbanization, white flight, and community divestment led to the proliferation of vacant land in the BEN region, with lasting negative effects concentrated specifically in high poverty areas and predominantly Black neighborhoods. Grounded Strategies serves the underserved communities reclaiming vacant and underutilized land to improve socioeconomic and environmental health. Their specialties include urban planning, public policy, landscape design, permaculture, and sustainable land stewardship advocacy.

“Grounded Strategies is excited to be selected for the Center for Community Progress Community Revitalization Fellowship,” said Becca Simon, Project Manager of Policy and Land Stewardship at Grounded Strategies. “We look forward to supporting the amazing work of the six fellows from Braddock, East Pittsburgh, and North Braddock in their journey to develop creative placemaking projects in the community and learn with the Syracuse and Loíza cohorts!”

The BEN fellows are:

  • Chardae Jone
  • Crystal Jalil
  • Edith Abeyta
  • Fitzhugh Shaw
  • Jona Reyes
  • Natiq Jalil

The Community Revitalization Fellowship is made possible through the generous support of the Oak Foundation and The Kresge Foundation. For more information on the program, fellows, or neighborhood revitalization, contact melkin@communityprogress.org.

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About the Center for Community Progress

Founded in 2010, the Center for Community Progress is the national leader for building strong, equitable communities where vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties are transformed into assets for neighbors and neighborhoods. Today, Community Progress has affected change in more than 48 states and seve countries through leadership education and collaborative systems, policy, and practice reforms. Simply, we work to transform “Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Places.”  For more information, visit communityprogress.org.

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