Van Nest, once a quiet and peaceful neighborhood, has changed greatly in recent years due to rising crime rates. According to the New York Police Department’s CompStat reports, there have been robberies, burglaries, assaults, shootings, thefts, and a range of other crimes throughout the Van Nest area.
But some residents have been pushing back and are working together to reclaim their neighborhood through a series of public events.
On a recent Wednesday, “The North” was one of many events held at Pelham Parkway and White Plains Road. This event was hosted by the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance. On that morning, parents assisted their children in community building projects.
“Today we are going to paint the light post to remove the graffiti, ” said Bernadette Ferrara, an event organizer and the vice president of the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance. “And we’ll build a tree guard,” she added.
The event, dubbed “Summer Beautification Camp,” is part of a series of activities organized by the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance. Ferrara explained that the main goal of the alliance is to “bring up the quality of life in the community.”
Ferrara, who has lived in the neighborhood her entire life, recalled that when she was younger “parents could leave their children to play on the streets.” “But now there’s a huge safety concern,” she said.
A number of episodes have made local residents feel unsafe.
“This one time me and my mom were sitting on the park bench and this man was all exposed,” said Leiby Soto, a teen who lives in the area. “He kept looking at us, and he looked weird, so we left,” she added.
Soto said that most crime in Van Nest takes place, “mainly in the night.” “Bad things happen and sometimes people smoke weed not too far from the park,” she said.
The Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance was created to give residents pride in their neighborhood and to serve as a resource for newcomers.
Ferrara, the vice president, said that when she moves from one place to another, she “must find her resources,” whether it is a community group, local library, or even a church. And for Van Nest residents, the neighborhood alliance.
“We are raising the bar,” said Bernadette about the organization’s activities.
She added that the alliance serves as a resource for the people of Van Nest and is supposed to be a place where the community can help improve Van Nest.
The Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance, formed officially on April 6, 2011, also aims to return Van Nest to what it used to be before the spike in crime.
“Back then, it was a less fearful time for parents and children,” Ferrara said. “Now, the newcomers aren’t community-minded, no one knows each other and the people aren’t socializing.”
The alliance serves to “make the community aware of being involved, and make them care about what is going on” Ferrara said. The group holds meetings where “agendas” are planned to aid local residents when something goes wrong. For example, after several disturbances in Van Nest Playground, Cross County Savings Bank worked with Senator Jeffery Klein’s Office, the 49th Precinct and the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance to successfully install cameras around Van Nest Playground to insure safety for the children and residents.
Although Soto was not familiar with the Van Nest Neighborhood Alliance, she expressed optimistic views for the neighborhood’s future, after taking a look at their brochure.
One volunteer, Raphael Schweizer, said that the alliance is a “community organization that is dedicated to improve the neighborhood.”
“They coordinate youth activities to help people get involved with positive activities in order to reduce violence,” he said.
The alliance hosts many different community-building events. This summer they presented their “Summer Beautification Camp,” with the Bronx Park East Community Association, which includes different events from July to August. Along with “The North,” other events include Van Nest poetry and Boat Rowing. The events are for children, teens, and adults of all ages who live in the community and want to get involved.
As stated on its brochure, the alliance organizes “fun, free events to enrich our spirits, stop the violence, and beautify our communities.”