Building community at housing complex step by step
A friendly, soft-spoken mother of two, the Liberian native is joined by Nyanit Malual, a southern Sudanese woman with a stroller in tow; Sarah Jane Knoy, the director of Granite State Organizing Project; and Willie (Mr. Willie) Miles, a Texas transplant deemed the mayor of Elmwood Gardens.
They exchange a few pleasantries, and then start to walk.
They take a little more than an hour, ushering in the darkness and making sure that all is well at the 250-unit project for low-income families in south Manchester.
They ask motorists to be careful of children and to slow down. They fantasize over converting an overgrown lot, owned by Velcro, into a community garden.
They tell children to get home once the 9 p.m. curfew goes into effect.
';I think I'm responsible for everybody's child,'; Burma said. ';We're all here. We're supposed to be walking as a family. Her child is my child because we're all moms.';
The patrols are an offshoot of the Elmwood Gardens Leadership Group, which formed about a year ago, thanks in part to a $15,000 Bean Foundation grant designed to improve English and community involvement in the neighborhood.
';Before, it was just English classes and you go home,'; Malual said. ';But we need to know what the American people are doing.';
She joined a leadership class, and part of it involved recruiting neighbors to a residents meeting. Residents said they were concerned about the safety of children, parking and maintenance.
';It's community building. It's relationship building,'; said Knoy, whose Granite State Organizing Project provides support.
The sense of ownership is evident in other efforts.
Budget cuts have forced the elimination of the Even Start family-oriented literacy project, so the tenants group is trying to replace it with volunteers from nearby Blessed Sacrament Church.
And later this year, a sewing class likely will start.
As for now, the patrols continue.
The walk draws the attention of grade school-aged African girls, several wearing head scarves. They banter with Miles, who compliments some and jokingly chides others.
';There's a lot of great people here, but they don't understand (America),'; said Miles, a 61-year-old who has suffered through a stroke and two heart attacks. ';They hear ';Land of the Free,' and they think everything's free.
';They get turned loose on us, and that's what we're about. We're teaching them about America,'; he said.