BANGOR, Maine — Nicole Hustus has lived in the Capehart section of the city for 10 years. For all but about a year of that time, she never felt like she lived in a real neighborhood.
“We sponsored our first community cleanup day last spring and it shocked me to see how many people responded,” the 26-year-old mother of three said last week. “Over the past year, more people have become more comfortable about helping each other out.”
Hustus credited the year-old neighborhood group called BRICK-PEACE, an acronym for Building Relationships in Community, Kids Parents Educating and Creating Empowerment, for some of that change. She praised the efforts of Michael Myatt, executive director of Bangor Housing Authority, to allow the group to operate independently but supporting wholeheartedly its work.
In addition to the annual community cleanup, in which more than 80 people participated Saturday, BRICK-PEACE is involved in a literacy program that encourages reading aloud to children. This month, the group is promoting safe walking and biking at 8:15 a.m. Friday mornings at Downeast School. The event includes gifts and prizes solicited from area businesses. The grand prize is a new bike and helmet.
Hustus also said that Community Partnerships for Protecting Children, which was established in Bangor about 18 months ago, has been helping families learn how to help each other. Community Partnerships for Protecting Children of Bangor is a local collaboration of stakeholders committed to the responsibility of keeping children and families safe, supported and healthy within their families, neighborhoods and communities, according to Tom Grogan, coordinator for the organization. It has existed in Portland for about eight years but is not connected to a national umbrella organization.
“CPPC works on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood model,” Grogan, 51, of Bangor said last week. “We want to be seen as part of the neighborhood and a resource for residents.”
The group has more than 25 partners including the Bangor Housing Authority, the Bangor Police Department, Community Health and Counseling Service, Spruce Run, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Child and Family Services, and Wings for Children and Families.
The goals of CPPC of Bangor, which is funded by DHHS, include:
• Decreasing the number of children experiencing child abuse and neglect.
• Increasing the number of children who can be safely maintained in their family and community.
• Reducing the number of children who experience repeated abuse and neglect.
• Assessing and identifying community specific areas of need.
“Family members can come to us and say, ‘I’m having trouble, can you help me,’” Grogan said. “That kind of intervention can prevent families from getting into trouble and kids from getting hurt.”
Grogan works with BRICK-PEACE members on developing leadership and communication skills.
“The group really helped me come out of my shell,” Carmen Garcia, 35, said last week. “I used to be a really shy person but it helped me to help other people with their problems.”
Having Garcia, who is a native of Puerto Rico, in the group has helped the Maine natives see things from a different cultural perspective, Hustus said.
“They’ve worked really well with us,” Myatt said Thursday of the residents’ group. “They have the same goal we have — to engage more people in their neighborhood. The people who live here are the best people to determine what the neighborhood needs.”