The Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington (CGN) is celebrating 40 years of formulating positive growth in the neighborhood, and it has big plans for the future.
In 1976, Covington’s Fourth Street Center and Downtown Neighborhood Center combined to tackle community concerns and the needs of low-income residents. One more name change and two locations later, the Center for Great Neighborhoods of Covington (CGN) does much of the same work, but is also focused on the bigger picture of development and creating an interactive network of neighborhoods. Today, CGN has six defined core programs, including health, housing, creative placemaking, neighborhood and community, youth and financial education.
CGN has proven its stability and persistent progress in civic engagement by giving the community a sense of ownership through projects like the Riddle-Yates Community Garden, a space that both literally and metaphorically has been growing the community since 1982.
“That garden has been symbolic, kind of a bellwether for the state of the neighborhood,” says executive director Tom DiBello. “In the beginning there was real energy… It was the first community garden in the city. If you parallel that with a story of the West Side (of Covington), when crime really got bad in the late ’80s, the garden was also plagued.”
DiBello and associate director Dan Petronio both cited the garden as an anchor project of CGN. “When you’re working in the community arena, it’s sometimes hard to see the progress,” Petronio says. “So when you have a physical project you can go back to, it sort of keeps you encouraged.”
The lot recently expanded, and Petronio, DiBello and volunteers are revamping the 10,000-square-foot area with a new fence and retaining walls for raised garden beds.
Just as the neighborhoods and community initiative works to revitalize the Riddle-Yates Garden, programs involving youth and health are thriving, and CGN’s creative placemaking program is impacting the center itself.
Creative placemaking is any artistic or creative effort to strengthen a community, according to CGN’s website. In one grand effort, CGN’s under-construction Hellmann Creative Center will improve the visibility and accessibility of the center and artistically engage the community. Once home to the Hellmann Lumber Mill, the space will not only be the new home of CGN, but will also house artist studios and community meeting space, flaunting preserved details of the mill. The center is set to open in late August.
Among old belts, pulleys and sawdust vacuums that were part of the old mill, local artists will fill the 130-year-old building’s first floor, enabling them to interact with community members and CGN staff.
Although the program’s director Sarah Allan admits that CGN’s definition of “artist” is not easily defined, the details of partnership with the soon-to-be tenants are concrete. The artists will not be employees, but they will sign a one-year lease and have to use their art in ways that develop the community, she says. A studio space for woodworking is being designed specifically for Hellmann Creative Center’s first confirmed occupant, The Carnegie arts center of Covington.
CGN is also actively engaging with youth through their Born Leaders of Covington, Kentucky program. Every Monday at 3:30 p.m., a group of fourth and fifth graders shuffles into a classroom at Latonia Elementary, where the kids learn about self-development and ways to contribute to the community.
With program leader and CGN intern Molly Williams, they discuss how to get involved, learn life-management skills, create a project that will directly impact the community and interact with neighborhood elders.
“They care about each other and the things that we’re doing,” Williams says. “It’s empowering for them and good to see that their hard work pays off.”
Recently, that hard work has been focused on raising awareness for the Kenton County Animal Shelter. Williams helped the kids write a skit promoting animal adoption and safety that they hope to perform at school.
From youth outreach to organic gardening, GCN looks to better residents’ quality of life by improving the neighborhood.
For more information on THE CENTER FOR GREAT NEIGHBORHOODS, visit greatneighborhoods.org.