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  • Bruce Baker

Essex House Leaders Find the Path of Success

The Leadership Team at Essex House, a 135 unit high rise rental property on Maple Avenue, has developed robust leadership capacity over the past several months and recently achieved recognition from the building owners and is now for the first time managing its own budget. Since beginning the Neighborhood Improvement Process six months ago, the Essex House Leadership Team has built capacity and implemented several successful programs that benefit the residents.

The Leadership Team has articulated a mission statement that prioritizes maintaining quality housing, supporting children’s development, helping residents find career opportunities, and build mutual support networks. They are planning social events to bring residents together to form relationships that will forge a stronger more cohesive community among culturally diverse residents.

The Leadership Team includes both African immigrant and African American members. Each member of the Leadership Team has taken on specific management roles. Jacquette Frazier and Cherwanda Oliver share responsibility for overseeing operations. Faith Ogbonna, and Bizuayehu Asegidew act as facilitators, and Loretta Long serves as record keeper.

Successful programs the Leadership Team has initiated in recent months include a summer reading and learning program for school-aged children, and a summer free lunch program. They also arranged for distribution of school supplies to children as children went back to school in the fall. The Leadership Team has successfully advocated for residents’ interests over landlord and tenant concerns, and heightened awareness of health and quality of life concerns, such as rodent and insect infestations. In the fall the Leadership Team enabled a local emergency food provider, EduCare Support Services, to distribute food to Essex House residents in need.

Another health and wellness related activity benefiting the community is the arrival of MarVa Harvest , which sells fresh organic local produce at affordable prices in the parking lot of Essex House. Although MarVa Harvest initiated this independently, the Essex House Leadership Team provided volunteer support and was instrumental in promoting the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables among the residents and neighbors of Essex House. The market has become a social hub for community residents to get to know each other and build relationships. CHEER also played a role in supporting MarVa Harvest to make this business model successful.

CHEER also provided for leadership training for the Leadership Team to develop skills such as facilitation, agenda setting, record keeping and program management. The transformation in leadership skills has been substantial. Prior to the neighborhood improvement process residents were skeptical and leaders were discouraged. The team has expanded in numbers and the team has confidence and capability it has not had before. Training was provided with support from Governance Alive.

Ward 5 City Council member Jarrett Smith has taken an active role in supporting the development of the Essex House Leadership Team. He has been instrumental in bringing resources and opportunities to Essex House that have nurtured the community.

The building owner, Community Preservation and Development Corporation (CPDC), also deserves credit for providing facilities, some staff support, and encouragement for the Leadership Team. This includes funds for the Leadership Team budget. Even as landlord and tenant interests conflict, CPDC has been responsive and attentive.

Many challenges lie ahead for Essex House, but they now have stronger leadership capacity and a process to help them meet those challenges. They have set their mission and are on their way, and CHEER will be there to accompany them on their path to success.

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