For the past year, the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance has been putting lower Morris Park back on the map.
The group had its first official meeting on January 13, 2010. Since then the members have had a hand in a long list of accomplishments, from helping to get drugs of the street, to getting the name of a fallen war hero on the monument in Van Nest Playground.
“This year we accomplished a lot of things,” said Shradhanand Pirtam, president of the alliance. “This is our neighborhood. We are working to establish a better neighborhood and a better relationship with the community.”
The alliance began as a way for concerned community members to get together and address the daily issues facing the neighborhood, such as abandoned properties, rising crime rates and traffic issues. The group sought to raise the quality of life in the area, which had suffered a sharp decline over the past few decades.
“It started with a few people coming to me about problems with drugs in the neighborhood,” said John Fratta, district manager of Community Board 11, which played a major role in forming the alliance. “They were fed up. They said dealers have taken over Van Nest. They were running the streets, and people were really concerned. They had an investment in the neighborhood and they didn’t want to lose it.”
The first meeting took place with about four members, but today, the group boasts about 70 participants and more than 50 regular members.
“They managed to get themselves known,” said Fratta. “They are a respected group now and they’re doing a lot of good stuff in the community, not just fighting drugs.”
The group was able to tackle a variety of smaller issues, such as getting speed humps on Van Nest Avenue, increased civilian patrols with auxiliary police, fixed catch basins on street corners and reporting violations from absentee landlords that fail to maintain their properties.
The alliance was also instrumental in the many issues concerning Van Nest Playground, such as getting the name of a fallen Vietnam War veteran on the memorial there, and removing the name of a fallen 9/11 hero from the veterans memorial site.
For larger project the group had to develop its relationships with local elected officials and the Morris Park Merchants Alliance.
“It was a year of getting elected officials to turn their heads and look at our area, after decades of being ignored,” said Bernadette Ferrara, vice president of the association. “We made a lot of noise.”
Currently the group is looking into its options for becoming a not-for-profit organization, and in the coming year officials plan to focus on the ongoing work at the park.
“We’re hoping that in the second year we’ll accomplish the things we’re already laid the groundwork for,” she said.
The group holds its meetings on the first Wednesday of each month at 7 p.m. at St. Dominic’s School.