Freret Neighborhood Center
The Freret Neighborhood Center, a resident-driven program of Neighborhood
Housing Services, opened in 2007, two years after Hurricane Katrina took its devastating blow. From its outset, the goal of the Freret Neighborhood Center is to engage community members in the revitalization of the Freret and Milan neighborhoods. The center does so by engaging youth, eliminating blight, connecting seniors, and providing economic and technological resources for community members. The FNC has a group of paid individuals who oversee programming, volunteers who help to execute program activities, and residents who attend the various events.
The Center, located at 4605 Freret Street, focuses on the Freret and Milan neighborhoods, encompassing an area of one square mile, from Jefferson Avenue to Louisiana Avenue and from South Claiborne Avenue to Dryades Street.
Demographically, the neighborhood is 65% African American and 30% Caucasian. Unfortunately, the neighborhood lost 30% of its population between 2000 and 2010. However, the percentage of residents in poverty has decreased during this time.
The Freret Neighborhood Center attributes the decrease in poverty to their “holistic” endeavors to engage the community in positive programs. These events and programs include partnerships with other community groups, including Neighbors United, the Milan Focus Group, local businesses and the Freret Market. These partnerships allow the center to hold
streetscape beautification projects, walks against crime, and community events. These events include an annual neighborhood-wide Halloween Party, one of the center’s most popular celebrations.
This year, the events will also include a college and career fair that I will be planning. The event reaches out to local grade schools and high schools, specifically youth in 7th to 12th grade, as well as their parents. At the event, we will discuss college and career options, available financial aid, and college planning steps for students. All universities invited have campuses in Louisiana. These universities include Dillard University, Xavier University, Grambling State University, and more.
“I just want to feel safe. I want a sense of community”
The FNC also trains community members to develop leadership skills in order to conduct their own meetings and provide services to the community. Weekdays, the center is open as a resource center to provide community members help economically and technologically. Providing brochures and information about other resources within the neighborhood, such as job openings, is another project of the center. After 4:00, the center opens as an afterschool program, in which local university volunteers tutor youth and assist them in leadership training. The center also reaches out specifically to seniors with their program called “Seniors Connecting,” allowing seniors to meet and spend time together at events such as the annual Senior’s Holiday Potluck and Party and Senior Fest.
“It’s important that these kids know that someone cares about them.”
The FNC also addresses the physicality of the neighborhood in its attention to blight, and works to assess and fix this neighborhood detriment. In community meetings, residents continuously complain about the danger of empty lots and the ugliness they bring to the community. The center organizes clean ups and communicates with government officials, asking them to take responsibility for some of these lots.
As a community development and organizing intern, working under Yasin Frank Southall, I attend community meetings, assist with events, and provide outreach to community members via fliers and phone calls. I also create and translate materials for the center, allowing me to utilize skills from both my English and Spanish majors. As an English major, the ability to practice my writing skills in a formal setting is important experience. Moreover, I have learned to work with individuals and projects outside of my comfort zone. Since working at the center, I have tutored youth from the Freret/Milan neighborhoods, met volunteers from Loyola University, given input in community meetings, made connections with FNC employees, and met older community members I would never have met otherwise. I also better understand the issues
facing these neighborhoods and the importance of resolving these issues. If the issues are not resolved, I fear that New Orleans will be achanged city, in which only the wealthy can live. Clearly, the FNC is an extremely important community asset.
“We’re willing to do the work if you provide the tools.”
As I’ve learned from the community meetings that I have attended, community members want (and deserve) a voice. In order to have this voice, they need an organization to back them. The Freret Neighborhood provides this support.