Painting faces and building community in the JOSANA neighborhood

Painting faces and building community in the JOSANA neighborhood

Triangle Block Club Picnic, 8/27/16

signOriginally, I had come to the corner of West Broad and Smith to help my friend Julie Everitt (who you’ve met before) register voters.

I was not expecting the full blown party taking place at the Triangle Block Club Picnic last Saturday. And I arrived just in time for the food.


Photo: Julie

At the picnic hundreds of people were enjoying live music, lawn and stage dancing, face painting and delicious diet busting ribs, chicken, hots and dogs straight from the grill.


The grilling guru also doubles as the PR man for Loyalty First

Face painting was super popular (I kept losing my place in line and left clean faced.) But the food stole the show. Kids ate first, but then adults devoured the trays of goodies that kept coming.

What exactly was the Triangle Block Club Picnic? To learn more I turned to Scott Benjamin, President & CEO of the Charles Settlement House, who described the day:

three ladies (2)

(l-r) Rashandra Montgomery, Kizee Lee and Willie Jean Arnold. Sitting behind is a math teacher at Monroe High School.

with scott

Scott Benjamin (left) with Roger Brandt from the Rochester Cornerstone Group, 8/27/16

It’s hard to believe how a small block party has blossomed into such a large neighborhood picnic!  About six years ago Charles Settlement House had 50 people come out for a cookout and it grew steadily as the Triangle Block Club and Charles House Neighbors in Action (CHNA) were created and began organizing this annual event. We served at least 400 people this year with food prepared by residents and friends – ribs, chicken, hotdogs and burgers, macaroni and cheese.  The block club solicits grants and donations from neighborhood businesses and gets volunteers to plan and carry out the day.  We had face painting and plenty of live music and entertainment from churches, residents and professionals, and Mayor Lovely Warren and Melissa Barrett bandstopped to talk with neighbors.  This picnic is one of the most visible signs of an improving neighborhood.  The Triangle Block Club Flower Garden is really a vacant city-owned lot.  But residents and other community stakeholders began caring for this vital corner, planting flowers and shrubs, building a stage, maintaining the grass.  Now it looks as nice as a park and people respect the space.  JOSANA (Jay Orchard Street Area Neighborhood) now includes 45 brand new Stadium Estates homes, dozens of houses built by Habitat for Humanity, a fully-renovated School #17, and many other improvements over the past five years.  JOSANA residents continue to face challenges head-on, and are working hard for a complete revitalization of their neighborhood.

And, oh, about the food:

food 1

Opening the food

food 2 (2)

Getting the food

food 3

Eating the food


Loyalty First (est. 2009) with Rhinos Stadium in the background.

At the event I also met members of the Loyal First biker and community group there to support JOSANA. I learned Loyalty has an ongoing program to collect and distribute book bags and school supplies. Next year, they plan a booth right next to face painting. I was also told the grilling guru doubles as Loyalty’s PR man. He’s hired!

I spoke at length with Ryan Brandt of the Rochester Cornerstone Group. Along with his father Roger, Ryan has been involved in redeveloping JOSANA for many years. Ryan appreciated the heavy lifting done by the Triangle Block Club and CHNA — as well as the many businesses that made financial contribution or provided free food/drink — that brought this sparkling Saturday afternoon to fruition.

As Ryan looked out with pleasure at the large gathering, he like Scott, pointed to the many signs that JOSANA was on the upswing. Ryan noted the important work being done in the neighborhood by Greentopia’s Green Vision project. Ryan sees the ongoing implementation of the 2011 JOSANA Master Plan as a turning point in neighborhood revitalization.

We also discussed the Rochester Rhinos Stadium just down the block. Built in 2006, the stadium was hoped to be the cornerstone of development in the area. Ryan’s appraisal was that initial expectations were probably too high. Too much faith that if you build it, they will come. Overall, Ryan does think the stadium has benefited the neighborhood with benefits growing incrementally. Since buying the team earlier this year, the new Rhinos owners are working hard to bring new events, fans, and ultimately demographics, to the neighborhood and stadium. For Ryan, ten years in, the stadium’s story is still being written.

me and melissa

see Emerging artists coming of age in Rochester at the Corn Hill Arts Festival

As we looked at Rhinos Stadium, Ryan remarked how Frontier Field is just around the corner. As Ryan said, generally, people don’t think twice about attending a baseball game or event at Frontier Field. Unfortunately, there is a lingering perception that the soccer stadium neighborhood is less than desirable. But Ryan sees that negative perception receding. Just as JOSANA is on the rise, Ryan thinks a packed Rhinos Stadium is on the horizon.

Aside from eating too much (I should have been more vegan like my friend Ron Hall who was there) and not getting my face painted, my only regret was missing my customary photo op with Mayor Warren.

As disappointing, I missed my mandatory photo op with County Court Judge candidate Melissa Barrett. So far during Melissa’s campaign, our paths have crossed 5 times for a photo op. Saturday would have been the 6th.


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About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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