Recently, Project Community introduced the “You & Me” initiative as part of its Project CHILDD (Community Help In Learning about Developmental Disabilities) program, forming a partnership with local police departments in Pelham and Pelham Manor to serve community members with special needs. Now, Project Community is also teaming up with the Pelham Chamber of Commerce to add Pelham businesses to the innovative program.
The program will be launched on February 8th, just in time for Valentine’s Day and the Chamber’s “Love is in the Air in Pelham” community activities. In the spirit of the season, the Chamber, Project Community, and local business supporters of the “You & Me” initiative look to spread love, understanding, and positivity throughout the community.
In a letter written to local store owners, Cristina Chianese, president of Pelham Chamber of Commerce and Gina Flynn, Director of the “You & Me” program, wrote, “The visible decal in your store will signal your commitment to the independence and safety of those with special needs. It will also communicate a genuine belief in service and all of us working together to face any challenge to an individual or the community as a whole.”
For the past 35 years, Project Community has developed outreach programs in Pelham and the Bronx to inspire independence and improve the quality of life for local children, teens, and adults, including those with special needs. As explained by the organization’s President and cofounder Dr. Anne Frost, “Research has proven that the most effective way to achieve public safety for all residents of a community results from police and community members working collaboratively to create effective public safety.” The new “You & Me” initiative therefore works directly with local law enforcement to ensure the safety of Pelham residents with special needs.
The initial stage of “You & Me” involves creating a registry with information provided, on a volunteer basis, by the families of special needs citizens. This data will include a photo and written description of any behavioral characteristics for identification. The Pelham and Pelham Manor Police Departments will then have access to this database while in the field in order to mitigate potentially dangerous encounters with special needs residents caused by a lack of familiarity.
Additionally, as part of the registration process, participants are invited to the police station with their families to foster positive relationships between citizens with special needs and police officers. Both the registration process and resultant database look to protect individuals with special needs while simultaneously building a community of trust and partnership with local police.
Another crucial aspect of this initiative is demonstrating community support through local businesses. At the start of their recent partnership, Project Community and the Pelham Chamber of Commerce reached out to Pelham shops to designate storefronts as “safe spaces” for individuals with special needs. The participating stores will be given a window decal that identifies them as a place for special needs citizens to seek help if needed; the local merchants will also be provided with information packets explaining different disabilities and strategies to help if the need arises. The growing list of participating businesses includes the Pelham Art Center, Double Rainbow, Cantina Lobos, Artistic Manner Florists, Rail House, Sound Chicken, The Picture House, Compass, Successful Vision, Flour Power, and Kossowan Orthodontics.
Finally, in line with the “You & Me” program’s goal of promoting awareness and a unified community, the Chamber and Project Community have formed a joint Community Advisory Board. This committee will ensure local voices are heard as the program is put into action throughout Pelham. The Advisory Board includes Tyler Garrow with Meridian Risk; Maurice Own-Micchane, Pelham Manor Board Trustee & Capital Realty; David Frost, Project Community, Inc. Board Member; Susan Deland, Project Community, Inc. Board Member; Gina Flynn, Director of You&Me; Cristina Chianese, Pelham Chamber of Commerce; as well as Clay Bushong, former Chamber President.