New Haven, Connecticut brought longtime medical professional Doreen Abubakar positive memories as a child. Today, Abubakar makes the revitalization of one of its deprived neighborhoods her life’s work.
The Newhallville area was a thriving working-class community before the 1980s. Like many working class areas across the country, an economic downturn left the area in dire straits. The press once dubbed the area a “mudhole” for its drug and crime problems.
While she did not grow up there, Abubakar sought to be active in the community.
“I never lived in the neighborhood, but I grew up in an area similar and I wanted to be involved,” she said.
Starting in 2013, she devoted herself to the area’s revitalization. Her main focus was on preserving the Farmington Canal Heritage Greenway, a linear park and multi-use trail. She also sought to provide family-oriented programming for families living in the area.
“I call my self an urban environmentalist, meaning that I have set out to engage New Haveners on the rich environment, natural environments that we have,” she said.
The project became Community Place-Making Engagement Network, or CPEN. The organization aims to provide a sense of community for Newhallville.
“There isn’t a library, there isn’t any medical institutions, no stores,” she said, “and I wanted to sort of address that.”
Addressing Disparities during COVID
During the COVID-19 pandemic, CPEN provided residents a respite from life in lockdown. Its amenities ranged from a fitness center to the hallmark trail to information on healthcare resources.
CPEN also offers groups for individuals suffering from addiction.
“In a neighborhood like here, you have people [suffering] with addiction. We have people who have family members that are addicted, people who lost families to addiction,” said Abubakar. “We started having a group conversation once a week, and that was very helpful.”
Having worked in the medical field for 25 years, Abukabar aims to address long-term healthcare issues in the community.
“The health disparities, we always knew they existed. Remember, our people were eating the slop,” she said. “Where do we learn healthy eating, if we have generations of eating slop?”
Ultimately, her goal is to make Newhallville a place its residents are proud to live in.
“What I’m trying to do is just uplift this neighborhood, and have the neighborhood be proud of the things they have,” she said.
For more information on CPEN, visit http://cpeninc.com