Letter from the Community:
To thrive in 2018 in America a community needs three vibrant institutions: 1) a public school organized around equity, 2) a public library welcoming people from all income levels, and 3) a community center broad-based and innovative enough to help all who come through its open doors. Middletown is blessed with the first two institutions, but not the third. Such a community center must have the trust and support of the people and should not be operated by the dominant institutions, like governments, which many people do not trust. Such a thriving community center needs to be an independent force, serving the people not the state or a profit-making enterprise. Without that independence, it will not be sustainable, and it will wither and die.
The Middletown Green Community Center is that grassroots, thriving, and independent type of community center, and we are proud to represent several community leaders and organizations in our bid to take over 51 Green Street. We thrive on partnerships.
Our vision is “to create a grassroots, community-driven learning center in Middletown that focuses on three spheres of culture: information technology, healthy living, and the arts.” The broad base of our operations is modeled on the SHOFCO centers for girls in Kenya (launched in the Kibera slum in Nairobi), founded by Kennedy Odede ’12 and his wife, Jessica Posner ’09 (two Wesleyan alums and the authors of Find Me Unafraid). They have just won the largest nonprofit award in the world, the $2 million Hilton Humanitarian Prize. We are proud to follow in the footsteps of SHOFCO (Shining Hope for Communities), learning from a center pioneered in Africa.
Our particular mission is to “improve the lives of the underserved people and families in Middletown and the surrounding towns by developing high-tech skills, by instilling healthier lifestyles through training in food and movement, and by practical instruction in the arts (music, visual, performing).” Our website at www.middletowngreencc.org introduces you to “Our Board.” Our leaders, who come from all ages and income levels, bring skills from business, the arts, technology, education, marketing, sociology, the law, library science, film, public radio, literature, dance, culinary arts and functional anatomy, medicine, history, and community activism. Two of them have won the highest honors in their fields: the Pulitzer and the Peabody.
Three of us were leaders in building and running the old Green Street Arts Center (Quinones, Rosenthal, and Perez), and so we know exactly where its weaknesses and strengths lie. That’s why we have refused to limit ourselves to the Arts alone in our new MGCC, but have included Health and Technology (much more funding, both corporate and nonprofit, is available in these two added spheres).
Our founder, Jeff Hush, has been working tirelessly in the community for the past year, listening to and bringing together hundreds of stakeholders from across Middletown and the region: from city government to nonprofit foundations to Wesleyan University students and professors to the Board of Ed to Russell Library to the soup kitchen to affordable housing advocates to Middlesex Hospital administrators to the NAACP to environmentalists to local arts and activist groups to religious leaders to the chamber of commerce to Middlesex Community College professors to builders of solar arrays to progressive physicians to organic farmers to yoga students to realtors to local shop owners, and, finally, to immigrants and parents and children on the streets of the North End. MGCC’s vision and mission are grounded in these hundreds of community conversations. Our grassroots grow out of the soil that we all share.
The Middletown Green Community Center (MGCC) plans to reside at 51 Green Street, hence our bid for that building, the former home of St. Sebastian’s School. The new MGCC takes a much broader, community-centric, action-oriented approach than the former Wesleyan-run organization at that location (we will also serve a much wider age range than it did, and we’ll be open many more hours daily). Our three high-impact life initiatives—Health, Technology, and the Arts, and how we will braid them together—will create national recognition for MGCC and, by extension, for Middletown itself.
We have a mandate from the local population to continue operating a community center at 51 Green Street. This space, which has served the people for decades, first, as a school, and second, as an arts center, should not be privatized to make generic offices, erasing from our community the much-needed performance, dance, and recording studios it currently contains. History matters. People need a safe and innovative place to go if they are to thrive. Low-income and middle-income residents will work and study together, to build a more sustainable and resilient American community based on Equity. This will help strengthen the bonds that recent history has greatly weakened. Our community does not want to lose its center; we are the voice of voiceless, the face of the invisible.
Founder, Middletown Green Community Center