Combining the power of art, technology and innovation with neighborhood values and culture to revitalize Syracuse’s Near West Side neighborhood.
Syracuse’s West Side has seen big improvements, and now has a way to spread the word
December 17th, 2012 by saltdistrict
Originally published by the Post-Standard
By Maarten Jacobs, Contributing writer
The Near West Side of Syracuse has seen major changes over the last six years:
- More than $70 million leveraged in new capital investment.
- Two major warehouse conversions, the CaseSupply and the Lincoln Supply buildings, totaling more than 250,000 square feet of space.
- Sixty homes built or rehabilitated by Home HeadQuarters.
- About $3.3 million spent on green infrastructure in the neighborhood.
Besides all that, the neighborhood continues to benefit from a host of agencies, not-for-profit organizations and businesses working hand in hand to make the neighborhood a better place to live and work.
Even so, it has been challenging at times to get the word out about all the activity to the residents of the Near West Side.
The Near Westside Initiative turned to Nojaim Bros. Supermarket, an independently owned grocery store that has been a neighborhood asset, employer and anchor for 90 years. It is one of the places a majority of neighborhood residents visit often — whether to do regular grocery shopping, or just to pop in for a gallon of milk.
With such a consistent flow of residents, the NWSI partnered with store owner Paul Nojaim to create the “Neighborhood Navigator.” The NWSI then proposed the idea to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national foundation who has funded NWSI projects for the previous two years. The Annie E. Casey Foundation agreed to fund the pilot year recognizing an opportunity to use an established neighborhood business as a neighborhood communication tool.
The Neighborhood Navigator is a physical presence inside the grocery store. Residents can come and ask questions and learn about services and opportunities. Questions range from learning about becoming a first-time homebuyer, to getting children enrolled in Say Yes to Education after-school programming, to getting general assistance with Electronic Benefits Transfer.
Nojaim had already created a digital display system in his store to promote local organizations and community events so it seemed like a logical next step to create this physical place.
As people enter the store, it’s hard to miss the Neighborhood Navigator with its large images highlighting neighborhood people and events. Martina Mason, a longtime neighborhood resident, greets residents at the counter. Mason is the main “navigator” trained to answer questions and share information about partnering groups. Mason staffs the space for 25 hours a week. The hours are posted, and typically they correspond to the busiest hours in the store, including weekends.
In addition to Mason, the Neighborhood Navigator offers an opportunity to partnering organizations to host day-long events and promotional activities in the space to further get the word out about the different services they offer.
“The Neighborhood Navigator is all about showing the community how many resources are available to them and doing it in a simple, person-to-person way, ” Mason said. “It is easy to get overwhelmed or confused by all the different services and things happening in the neighborhood. We are trying to make it easier for people to understand and to get involved.”
So far the program has partnered with a dozen groups including: the NWSI, Onondaga County Health Department, Huntington Family Centers, the Spanish Action League, Home HeadQuarters, ProLiteracy, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Signature Syracuse, 601 Tully, the Lerner Center, Say Yes to Education and St. Joseph’s Westside Health Center. More partners will join after the New Year, as the Neighborhood Navigator program irons out any initial kinks in its opening month.
For information about the Neighborhood Navigator, call Martina Mason at 315-472-0777, send email to email@example.com, or visit inside the Nojaim Bros. Supermarket, 321 Gifford St.
Maarten Jacobs, director of the Near Westside Initiative, writes occasional reports about Syracuse’s West Side for the City Neighbors section. He lives in Syracuse with his wife, Andrea, and their two children, Sam and Ollie. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.