CGHS alumna Kathiana Torres with children on the new swings at Cherry Ann Park.

When Connie Vereen first arrived on Cherry Ann Street 21 years ago, the neighborhood was dominated by Southern Connecticut State University students. As the university slowly shifted its campus, more and more young families filled the street’s apartment buildings. But the city line that runs in the middle of Cherry Ann Street fragmented the community — children on the Hamden side rarely crossed over to play with the kids in New Haven and vice versa.

Saturday, a dedication of a new park took place on Cherry Ann, showing how that has all changed.

“Ms. Connie,” as she is affectionately known, realized all the children lacked a safe space to play. And in just three years, a community once divided along city lines coalesced to create an expansive park for the entire neighborhood at the formerly overgrown terminus of the dead-end street. (Read more about the park here and here.)

“We call it ‘New Hamden’ now,” Ms. Connie said. “We live together, love together, play together, build together.” …

Only three years ago, when Joel Tolman from Common Ground High School arrived at the plot, the desolate land was inaccessible, rife with trees, weeds, and garbage. Kathiana Torres, a graduate of Common Ground who has worked on the project since its beginning, felt “a lot of pressure on” her and her peers to transform the massive plot of land.

But during the project, Saturday park cleanups also included cookouts in Ms. Connie’s backyard. Torres said that she now feels like a member of the community.

“[The park is] supposed to be a safe space for the kids, but it became my safe space,” Torres said. “This is my second home.”

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