When Yolanda Parker moved into the Middlebury neighborhood about 10 years ago, she remembers some residents being hesitant to even leave their homes. “There was so much going on in this area, in regards to drugs and violence, to where seniors at a certain time would just not come outside,” said Parker, who runs the nonprofit LINKS Community and Family Services.
Now, this small neighborhood just east of the University of Akron campus has much more pride about its section of Akron, and will celebrate this notion with other residents and community partners as part of the Middlebury Cultural Festival, Saturday, May 25. The event takes place noon to 3 p.m., at 756 Upson Street, where it meets Jewett Street, and will include food, vendors, live music, inflatables and kids activities, along with educational resources to help residents with finances, healthy eating and other aspects.
This large-scale outreach event will not only celebrate the offerings of this neighborhood: it will showcase its culture, said Parker, who’s also a co-pastor for the Middlebury-based Open Door Assembly of God Church, with her husband, Francel.
To pull off the event, LINKS is partnering with a number of organizations, like the Well CDC, which is working to empower residents through restoring housing and teaching financial literacy, among other services. The WOMB, a community organizing hub that also runs a nearby community garden, will offer education and information about sustainability, along with access to healthy food and sharing the importance of families growing their own food.
Summa Health will be on-hand offering health checks, and Fifth Third Bank will share financial literacy education tips.
Another key partner of the event is Habitat for Humanity’s Neighborhood Network, which has been rebuilding community trust through repairing homes and making sure these residents’ concerns are addressed and their voices are heard.
Marissa Little, Neighborhood Revitalization Coordinator for Neighborhood Network, said her organization focuses on building that sense of community and ensuring neighbors are getting to know one another, not just across the street, but across Middlebury, or even in other parts of Akron.
The upcoming event, she added, “Will show residents what Middlebury has to offer, and provide a fun and culturally enriching experience in the process.”
Little says this asset-based community development model centers around trust. “Trust-building with the organizations has been and will continue to be critical so we can continue to work together, making sure we’re all rowing in the same direction,” she added.
Middlebury is rebounding from decades of tough times, including high crime rates and even higher vacancies. But through the work of these grassroots organizations, like LINKS, a sense of community is steadily being restored, along with a renewed sense of hope.
LINKS helps older adults maintain their independence and dignity, while fostering a sense of community and connection, through lunch events, workshops, community gatherings and the upcoming festival.
They’re connections Middlebury resident Sheana England said she looks forward to forging at the upcoming Cultural Festival. “I think it will open up lines of communication that were previously not there,” she added. “I think this is going to be really good for the area.”
Brittney Henry, who’s worked at LINKS for three years and is part of the event planning team, said one doesn’t realize how many people are actually in the neighborhood until an event like this takes place. “And you don’t realize the diversity of the people in the neighborhood until an event like this is put on,” she said. “I definitely feel like one of the things we need to start practicing more is tolerance and educating people — not just about the resources that are available, but about the people that live in the community as well.”
Carol Dullen, a Middlebury resident who also works at LINKS, said she’s hopeful about the upcoming event. “Everyone loves to come to our outreaches, and this is going to be more unifying because we’re reaching out further than what we normally do,” she added. “This is a big event, and we’re really excited about it.”
For info about the event, call (330) 794-5230.