Group gives city residents hope

ROCHESTER — A group focused on improving living conditions in northeast Rochester neighborhoods is bringing hope to residents as it continues its marches against violence and drugs.

"They are doing a good job," said Ruth Fuentes as she sat listening to speakers from Project HOPE (Health Outcomes through Participation, Education and Empowerment) who stopped at Los Flamboyanes apartments during a June 22 march. "They are helping a lot of people. … This is for the future of our grandchildren."

Fuentes, who has been in recovery from drug abuse for 13 years, stopped Sacha Rios, Project HOPE’s resident participation coordinator, to ask her about getting support to help her stay on the right path in her own life. She said that friends have died from drug overdoses at the apartments.

Drug addiction "cannot be cured, only held off," the Puerto Rico native added. "I’m going to join the cause."

Project HOPE, an initiative of Ibero-American Development Corp. (IADC), began its marches in collaboration with St. Michael Church two years ago as an anti-drug effort. The marches have expanded to allow other agencies and neighborhood block groups to walk with the group and do community outreach.

Hilda Rosario Escher, executive director and chief executive officer of Ibero-American Action League, said that she was glad to finally be able to join the march last month, noting that participants walked past bodegas, men gathered on corners and broken bags of trash spilling out of a Dumpster. She said that she is proud of what Project HOPE has been able to accomplish in two years: creating a community playground, El Camino walking trail and a youth drop-in center at St. Michael. Often, the children from the center take part in the walk as well, Rios noted.

The community marches are held about every two weeks. They begin in front of St. Michael and also begin and end with a prayer usually led by Father Laurence Tracy.

Rosario Escher said that she also is proud of the community’s role with the Project HOPE efforts.

"They are taking their community, saying what they want to do," she noted. "It’s not us telling them. It is them saying, ‘We need this.’"

Father Tracy, who has been active in the Latino community for decades and recently celebrated 45 years as a priest, is putting his money where his mouth is as he moves next month into a house he rented on Siebert Street. During the June 22 march, he even paused to greet some of his new neighbors.

During a stop at the corner of North Clinton Avenue and Siebert, Father Tracy urged all the neighbors of the area to work together to bring peace to the community.

"All a welcome in my home," he said. "Together, let’s clean up Siebert … and all the streets."

During a citizens’ meeting months ago, Father Tracy asked Mary Ann Heroux to join the marches. Heroux added that she could not say no, especially when she thought of the verse from Matthew 5:41: "And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."

"I want to give people and the area hope (and know) that we care about them and so they won’t be afraid," she said.

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