Hazel Williams has been an active resident of the Newhallville Community since 1978. She is best known for being a neighborhood organizer, block watch coordinator and overall activist. According to her, it only took her a few years to realize that the community into which she had just moved was in need of change. Drug trafficking and violence had become visible concerns on Pond Street, where she now lives. To begin implementing positive changes, Hazel joined with the Yale School of Forestry to start planting flowers on the street. This further motivated Hazel’s involvement in the community and led her to begin planning her now-famous block parties.
It can be expected that a walk around Newhallville with Hazel will involve conversations with people of all ages, all of whom recognize her and her efforts. One such effort that has tied Hazel to the community has been an annually held Pond Street Block Party. These block parties are more than just an “opportunity for a cookout,” she says. She enjoys using these community get-togethers as a way to promote healthy neighbor relationships, which inevitably helps prevent the spike of drug soliciting and violence.
Hazel’s latest venture involves starting a Block Watch Walking Club. This idea was inspired by Reverend Alan Kendrick’s walking club that began meeting in 2013 on Saturdays at Lincoln-Bassett School. This group, made of about 25 residents, starts at the corner of Shelton and Basset Streets - in front the Lincoln Basset School - at 10:00 AM every Tuesday, weather permitting.
During these “moving meet-ups,” residents discuss healthy habits and share various nutritional tips. Reverend Alan Kendrick even provides walkers with City Seed to be used for purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Markets. Furthermore, these meetings serve as opportunities to address different aspects of health. In April, the Walking Club held a Walkers Health Assessment at the CCA Stepping Stone Location on Winchester Avenue. Nurses from New Haven Hospital took the blood pressure, body mass index, and diabetes assessment for more than 35 walkers, and several pedometers were handed out to help ensure that participants were able to get the expert-recommended 10,000 steps per day. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Walkers Health Assessment, to be held in the middle of August for participants.
The walks also serve as a time for members of the group to discuss current community issues. Hazel prides herself on “reducing crime on Pond Street for 26 years, as of four years ago,” a result of her dedicated efforts with community engagement, beautification and planning. She notes, however, that crime is rising again not only on her street but throughout the community. The walking club, she feels, is great a vehicle to begin reorganizing. An additional strength of the walking club is that its members come from a variety of New Haven communities, including Newhallville, Dixwell, Prospect Hill, The Hill and even Hamden. This diversity allows for different perspectives to be shared, regarding the crimes going on in the local neighborhoods, and provides insight on various strategies for how to combat it.
Since starting this walking club, Hazel says she has noticed a change within her walking group as well as in the Newhallville community in general. Hazel says that she has noticed that the walking club members are excited to come to the meet-ups because they are motivated by one another to walk. Having a group to walk with you motivates others to join the group and make the extra effort to get some good exercise in! In these last few years of coordinating the walking club, Hazel has also observed a lot of similar groups popping up with the same healthy agenda as her walking club.
Hazel is ecstatic to see new groups emerge such as “Silver Sneakers,” which focuses on healthy exercise for the elderly. She hopes that this will encourage the walkers in her club and in other groups to continue to be active, even well into the winter when the walking club is on hiatus. Hazel continues to inspire members of the Newhallville Community to take the approach of expanding into new areas and learning how to adapt with the changing times. She believes that success happens when “people break off and do things on their own,” and she looks forward to seeing the continued growth within her community!
New Haven Register- New Haven, News (2014): Block Watch Group Promotes Health, Safety for Greater New Haven