hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

August 1, 2013

Being kind to their part of the urban jungle

Urban Kindness group unites families to improve neighborhood

By Mike LaBella
Staff Writer

---- — Urban Kindness indeed.

That’s the name chosen by residents for their neighborhood group in the urban jungle of the Mount Washington area.

It’s an area often plagued by blight, but Urban Kindness is working to reverse that image — beautifying and keeping their neighborhood clean.

Led by Washington Street resident Keith Boucher, the group is an offshoot of The Vine, a new faith community that started in Haverhill in October 2010.

The group’s first project was to plant flowers in front of Fantini Bakery. But they want their efforts to be sustained over the long haul by getting other neighbors involved. Eventually they would like to form other branches of Urban Kindness so their “vine” can take root and grow across the city.

Benjamin Yosua-Davis, co-pastor of The Vine, said Urban Kindness is the Vine’s newest program for making the Mount Washington neighborhood a better place to live. He said the Urban Kindness group got its name from Boucher and his wife, Diane. Boucher is out of town on a trip and was unavailable to comment for this story.

“As a pastor, it’s my job to point people in the right direction then get out of their way,” Yosua-Davis said. “In this case, Keith was tremendous in opening his home and his property, and for his passion in organizing this to make a part of our city a better place. It really shows how a citizen can be engaged with their city without having to spend a lot of money. It just takes the desire and passion to do it.”

Yosua-Davis said a lot of what he and his wife, Melissa Yosua-Davis, do as co-pastors of The Vine is empowering ordinary everyday people to bless the lives of those around them and that the Urban Kindness program is one way of doing that.

He said the Bouchers moved into a home on Washington Street several ago to be near residents they could reach out to.

He said they volunteered their home as a place for neighbors to meet. They walked around handing out cookies and asked neighbors what would improve the neighborhood.

“As we got talking to people such as Joe Fantini, the owner of the business (Fantini Bakery), one of the things we noticed was an area in front of Fantini that was overgrown with weeds,” Yosua-Davis said. “So we contacted the mayor to have a water spigot turned on to make sure the flowers we wanted to plant would stay green.”

Yosua-Davis said the mayor embraced the idea. Planting began in mid-June with Boucher, other members of The Vine and neighbors he’d recruited pulling weeds and planting flowers. The group purchased some of flowers, while businesses and others donated some.

“We were lugging containers of water from Keith’s house and from a laundromat on High Street until the water got turned on,” Yosua-Davis said.

Last month, Fiorentini visited the area which Urban Kindness group worked on to congratulate them on their efforts. He presented them with the mayor’s beatification awards.

“They took a little area and worked to have the water going again,” Fiorentini said. “They did a great job and they’re also going up and down the street to continue their efforts.”

The Urban Kindness group meets once a week at noon on Sundays at the Boucher home.

“Every week, we go out and serve the community and then we’ll have a cookout and talk about what we did and are planning,” Yosua-Davis said. “We do a project every week in that neighborhood, including trash pickup, and we have plans to clean a playground across from the Rehobeth Lighthouse Church.

“We anticipate this group will be doing this good work for a very long time,” he said. “It’s being part of a neighborhood, engaging people and making things better for the long term. It’s important to have a consistent presence week after week. Our hope, our dream is to create other branches of Urban Kindness in other neighborhoods with other groups of people throughout the city.’’