Community Action Development Bethlehem and the city of Bethlehem hosted an event to celebrate the first two years of progress with their six-year Southside Tomorrow program.
About 50 South Side residents, government officials and city employees gathered together for conversation, networking, barbecue brisket and coleslaw freshly prepared by The Taste Smokers, a local restaurant. The room was filled with traditional, vibrant Latin music and dance performed by local senior dance group Talento Local.
According to Anna Smith, the director of Community Action Development Bethlehem, the program is designed to revitalize Bethlehem by creating initiatives and programs that meet the needs of the South Side community.
To remove any attendance barriers, Smith said the Nov. 16 event, officially called “Southside Tomorrow: Two Years of Advancing Equity Through Collaboration,” was free and open to the public.
Smith said the updated plan was launched to reflect the current hopes and concerns of people on the South Side and about their neighborhoods.
Trinidad Sierra, the assistant principal of Donegan Elementary School, said she observed many important people in attendance from the Hispanic Center, the mayor’s office and senators, all of whom were there to support the community.
“Anything that helps my families and my students in and outside of school is why I’m here,” Sierra said. “My day does not end at 3 (p.m.)”
Denisette Irizarry, a resident service coordinator at a local affordable housing complex, said she came to see initiatives that would benefit her residents and their community. She believes it’s important for individuals working on these projects to see the people they are impacting on the South Side.
“It’s wonderful to put faces to names, to see individuals interact together and take advantage of a very casual space that welcomes everybody from the area,” Irizarry said. “More formal spaces can deter folks from coming out, and this gives us an opportunity to be creative and support the small business.”
The program began with a bilingual introduction by Smith, who spoke in both English and Spanish.
Over the past two years of the six-year plan, Smith said $650,000 was invested in neighborhood-driven projects, over 150 community members have been involved in project implementation and over 20 community partner organizations have engaged with the program.
Six neighborhood meetings have been held, serving as a space where residents could discuss problems happening in the community, many of which soon turned into projects to fix them.
There is also a focus on sustainability and the environment, she said, as eight community cleanups have been held, and three community gardens have been implemented and sustained in the South Side.
“I know these numbers are important, but the harder part of this work is the cultivation of community and bringing all of these pieces together,” Smith said. “I’m hopeful that what I see in this room tonight is an indication of the progress we’re making and building support across neighborhoods.”
Veronica Moore, the owner of The Taste Smokers, hosts “plant therapy” classes, centered around mindfulness, plants and well-being for community members. This passion project, Moore said, connects her to the South Side community.
Bethlehem Mayor J. William Reynolds emphasized success in the South Side community is not just about getting money, but rather hearing stories and seeing people’s lives become easier. He said the program works because the people engaged in it want to see a real difference.
“One of the things that makes Bethlehem different is that there are so many people who want to do great things for our community,” Reynolds said.
He said the most important part of the Southside Tomorrow program is to build a community where trust is evident.
“The biggest thing we can do is build up that idea of community,” Reynolds said. “Build up that idea that the adults in this city care about our youth and are trying to build a community that they know they can trust.”