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Over the bridge, take a left: Boston Fed celebrates progress in overlooked Newport neighborhood Over the bridge, take a left: Boston Fed celebrates progress in overlooked Newport neighborhood

Working Cities teams share successes from the North End, away from city’s tourists and mansions Working Cities teams share successes from the North End, away from city’s tourists and mansions

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December 15, 2021

When visitors first cross the bridge into Newport, Rhode Island, they often turn right and head towards the city’s shops, hotels, and “glittering” mansions, said Kate Cantwell, the strategic initiative director of the Newport Working Cities Challenge team.

“But if you go to the left, it’s a very different experience for the people who actually live and work in Newport,” Cantwell said in a video featured during a virtual event last week.

That left turn takes you to the city’s North End community, a neighborhood with longstanding issues of poverty and inequality. The virtual gathering by Working Cities Challenge team members was held Dec. 7 to celebrate the progress they’ve made supporting North End residents and the larger Newport community.

In a series of video vignettes, members of the Working Cities team shared how they’ve collaborated with local leaders and organizations to improve economic stability, expand student mentorship opportunities, and connect members of the Spanish-speaking community to city resources.

“Collaborative work is very hard and getting to collaborative impact is even harder,” said Inés Palmarin, the Boston Fed’s Rhode Island Working Cities Challenge director. “It’s not just about individual … agendas. It’s the ability to see that you have a shared vision. …That’s been very true for this group.”

Teams take on the “cliff effect,” create a Dream Room

The Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Cities Challenge is a multi-year grant initiative that promotes economic development in smaller, post-industrial cities across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. Newport received a grant of $400,000 in 2017.

The Newport team detailed their accomplishments with several video vignettes. In Cantwell’s video, she talked about how Newport Working Cities decided to focus on addressing “cliff effects” after meeting with residents.

Cliff effects are when a family sees a steep decline in public benefits due to a relatively small increase in income. So, a family that receives a small pay raise may no longer qualify for public aid programs they still depend on.

But this year, Rhode Island lawmakers passed a new budget that allows a newly employed parent to come off a public benefit more slowly – they have six months to make the transition.

“We were finally able to get enough voices together to be able to advocate for changes,” Cantwell said.

Working Cities Newport also created a “Dream Room,” a one-stop career center where residents can connect quickly with resource providers and employers.

“We asked the residents of Newport, ‘What do you guys want?’” said Phyllis Mulligan, lead resident of the Dream Room. “And they said, ‘We want a place where we can go ask people questions and get things done – not have to go to 15 different places and fill out all the paperwork.’”

Connecting with the Hispanic community, local students

Another video detailed how Conexión Latina Newport, a nonprofit created in partnership with Newport Working Cities, worked with local organizers to connect Hispanic community members with city resources, including COVID-19 testing and vaccination sites.

“The city closed down, and our community – who are the backbone of the tourism industry and the service industry – was completely out of work,” said Rebekah Rosen-Gomez, executive director of Conexión Latina. “They couldn’t figure out where to go to get tested … and for many of them to go back to work, they had to be tested regularly.”

Rosen-Gomez worked with Yolanda Macías, the nonprofit’s director of operations, to establish the testing and vaccination sites.

“We started our first clinic with more than 400 people getting vaccinated,” Macías said.

Newport Working Cities also supported youth mentorship programs in neighborhood schools, including a program called “Navigate Your Future,” created in partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Newport County. Under the program, 20 high school juniors and seniors were trained to mentor incoming freshmen.

Ellen Pinnock, the AmeriCorps program director for Newport schools, worked with several middle school students who were told they would fail out of school. Instead, they graduated with the help of the mentors.

“For them to achieve something they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise is amazing,” Pinnock said.

Learn more about the Working Cities Challenge and other Boston Fed Working Places initiatives here.

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