Hartford beautification program carried out by formerly incarcerated celebrates first year
Approaching the one-year anniversary of the Neighborhood Ambassador program, Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin, nonprofit Open Hearth leaders and local officials gathered on Sisson Avenue Tuesday afternoon.
As neighborhood ambassadors, formerly-incarcerated residents worked 25 hours weekly, for six months, removing litter and weeds, cleaning up high-traffic areas, identifying graffiti, among other tasks.
“Thank you to our neighborhood ambassadors, those who are part of this team. You will see them out there, around our community, helping to keep Hartford cleaner, more beautiful, taken care of,” Bronin said. “Our goal for them is, this becomes a step on the path for the life they want to build. It gives them a chance to help build a stronger city and be a platform that they can use to go onto that next job opportunity.”
The program began in June, with participants focusing on 12 commercial corridors, according to a city statement. American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and Hartford Foundation for Public Giving dollars fund the program.
As ARPA funds are finite, the city will use its revenue from the recently instilled nip bottle surcharge, Bronin said.
“We’re using that revenue to make sure we can sustain that neighborhood ambassador program, creating a second chance opportunity and at the same time building a cleaner, greener, more beautiful Hartford,” Bronin said.
Neighborhoods chosen for cleanup are based on the area’s traffic level and how often litter gathers along the corridor.
“We wanted all neighborhoods to have the benefit, so we focused first on main corridors but also there are places where there tends to be a little more litter accumulating think, Flatbush Avenue, then we add it to the list,” Bronin said.
Neighborhood Ambassadors is operated by homelessness and reintegration nonprofit Open Hearth and its employment organization, Open Hearth Works.
The program’s director of operations, David Knighton, was previously incarcerated and now leads the team through the city.
“I’m thankful for being given a second chance like them. I am one of them. I have been incarcerated and I have come home and took advantage of the opportunity that was given to me through the Open Hearth,” Knighton said. “I am real grateful to be given this opportunity to clean up my neighborhood.”
Twelve formerly-incarcerated Hartford residents are employed in the program for a six month period, with the goal of securing more long-term employment and housing, program Re-entry Transitional Jobs Case Manager Stacey Bilodeau said.
“We do transitional jobs for six months and in the meantime we are helping them develop job skills, resume groups. After six months, we transition them to full-time employment,” Bilodeau said.
Program participants must be formerly-incarcerated, unemployed and experiencing homelessness, Bilodeau said.
Since debuting last year, the program expanded to three additional corridors.