Press Release: Save the Sound Launches Mill River Urban Waters Initiative: Community Outreach, Engagement, and Leadership Program

Fair Haven, CT – A new partnership between environmental and community groups has launched along the Mill River in the Fair Haven neighborhood of New Haven. Save the Sound and nearly a dozen other partners, through the Urban Waters Initiative (UWI) administered by the CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), have initiated a Community Outreach, Engagement, and Leadership Program to create and nurture connections between environmental organizations and residents of Fair Haven to amplify community voice and leadership in environmental stewardship and justice within the lower Mill River watershed.

The Community Outreach, Engagement, and Leadership Program was one of two projects proposed to and funded by CT DEEP this year after a months-long process during which dozens of community members and organizations offered ideas about the use of Urban Waters Initiative (UWI) funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Save the Sound is also involved in the other project, a Community Science Program led by the Southwest Conservation District and focused in part on engaging students in water quality monitoring on the Mill River.

“This was a very unique and collaborative grantmaking process,” said Anthony Allen, assistant director of ecological restoration at Save the Sound. “CT DEEP had already decided that the focus of the funding would be the lower Mill River watershed, and it was a great choice—Fair Haven is a neighborhood surrounded by water, but due to the development patterns of the industrial past (and present) there aren’t that many places where the river is accessible to residents. The point of this project is to develop deep and lasting relationships wherein environmental NGOs play a supporting role and follow the community’s lead in identifying and completing projects that will protect the river and foster affinity for it.”

As part of the Program, Save the Sound is seeking two paid Community Leaders to provide sustained outreach to Fair Haven residents and invite robust engagement in all aspects of the UWI project. Fair Haven residents interested in the Community Leader positions are encouraged to read the full description in either English or Spanish. The main responsibility of Community Leaders will be to help facilitate community-based participatory research on environmental hazards and assets in the lower Mill River watershed using the PhotoVoice method.

Students from the John S. Martinez School explore Haven and Exchange Street – a current restoration site in Fair Haven’s Mill River watershed.

The PhotoVoice method involves training community members in documentary photography, and group analysis of the photographs to draw out themes, stories, or ideas. Community Leaders will work with 10 Fair Haven residents to identify and photographically record areas of their neighborhood that require attention or action—either to address a specific problem related to water quality, flooding, or pollution, or to invest in or secure a place or feature that the community considers an asset.

The PhotoVoice project will feed into two community project development charrettes presented to City staff, elected officials, the Mill River Watershed Association, CT DEEP, and environmental NGOs to shape resident observations and storytelling into actionable projects.

A recent grant from the Greater New Haven Green Fund, a foundation supporting projects that enhance environmental equity, quality, and justice, was awarded to the UWI Community Outreach, Engagement and Leadership Program to help make a larger impact. The grant will be of great assistance in the hiring of a Community Leader, broadening the focus of the community-based PhotoVoice research to include environmental assets and hazards, and increasing the program duration to ensure its success.

Participants in the program will receive cameras and training for the PhotoVoice method to allow them to document areas of the Mill River watershed that need improvement.
(Photo credit: Marco Xu on Unsplash.com)

The Mill River Urban Waters Initiative includes representatives from Save the Sound, Fair Haven Library, Fair Haven Community Health Care, Mary Wade, Junta for Progressive Action, Neighborhood Housing Services, Chatham Square Neighborhood Association, Southwest Conservation District, River Advocates of South Central CT, and the South Central Regional Council of Governments, and will be led in part by the Community Leaders. 

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