What is WesNEAT?
WesNEAT is a Wesleyan student organization dedicated to building solidarity between Wesleyan students and Middletown residents. We work closely with the North End Action Team (NEAT), a grassroots organization in Middletown’s North End neighborhood. You can learn more about NEAT in the "What is NEAT?" section of this webpage.
WesNEAT’s mission statement is as follows:
WesNEAT’s goal is to support the needs of the community as expressed by the community. As Wesleyan students, we can redistribute resources, money, energy, time, and labor to aid NEAT in responding to needs and building community. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and our campus community in order to build solidarity and power within Middletown.
A bit of history...
In Spring 2018, WesNEAT was conceived and created by Vera Benkoil ‘18 and Angel Martin ‘19, who volunteered at the Green Street Art Center, and Cookie Quinones, the former director of the Green Street Art Center and current president of NEAT. At the time, NEAT had lost funding for full time staff, leaving the NEAT office at 645 Main Street empty for most of the week. This presented a problem for many North End residents, who often visit the office to get connected with social services. To address this problem, WesNEAT was created to staff the NEAT office with Wesleyan student volunteers.
During the 2018-2019 school year, WesNEAT volunteers consistently staffed the NEAT office, answering phones and helping community members who entered the office one-on-one. In coordination with Students for Ending Mass Incarceration (SEMI), WesNEAT also began working with NEAT and the NEAT board to create the Pursuing Reentry and Employment Possibilities (PREP) Center. The PREP Center was designed to help formerly incarcerated community members attain the skills, resources, and confidence for re-entry into the workforce.
At the start of 2019-2020 school year, Alphina Kamara ‘22 and Emily McEvoy ‘22 began serving as WesNEAT coordinators. During this year, WesNEAT expanded its mission to begin supporting a broader array of Middletown community projects. As coordinators, Alphina and Emily began sitting on the board of NEAT, which has helped WesNEAT build stronger relationships with NEAT board members. WesNEAT’s in person work was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but WesNEAT members have continued to be involved in Mutual Aid and community organizing efforts in Middletown. You can read more about our current projects here.
What is NEAT?
NEAT is a nonprofit organization in Middletown’s North End. It has been in operation since 1997. It began largely as an advocacy organization for North End tenants.
NEAT’s mission statement is as follows:
The North End Action Team (NEAT) is a community-based organization whose mission is to empower residents and stakeholders to participate in and advocate for the interests of the North End neighborhood within Middletown, Connecticut. The purpose of NEAT is to provide an organizational structure from which to identify compelling neighborhood concerns, encourage participation among residents/stakeholders, to identify and develop indigenous leadership, to initiate grassroots advocacy, to effect solutions to neighborhood issues and to develop resources.
A bit of history...
During the years of operation of the Green Street Arts Center, not only was NEAT’s main programming focused on benefitting North End youth, but the 51 Green Street building was a hub for parent and community meetings. NEAT has a history of direct democracy and linkage work for the neighborhood, as well as leadership development for residents. Green Street Arts was a partnership between Wesleyan, the City of Middletown, and NEAT, but when Wesleyan and the City pulled out and the Center closed its doors in 2017, NEAT was left without its main opportunity for stability and advocacy work. As of late 2020, 51 Green Street now houses the Middletown Youth Services Bureau and the Middletown Transition Center.
In recent years, much of NEAT’s programming has been defined by the community gardens and the North End Farmers Market (NEFM). For seven years, NEAT sponsored the farmers market, which was pivotal for food access for residents. It has a double dollars program, where recipients of SNAP, EBT, WIC, and Senior Farmers Market Vouchers can have their purchases of fresh and local produce doubled. This past year, the farmers market was taken over by the City of Middletown and run at the South Green, and has been renamed the Middletown Farmers Market. The Community Gardens at Ferry St. and Erin St. are places where neighborhood residents can buy plots for very low prices and grow their own food. These have historically been a place for an exercise of local food sovereignty, with regular gardener meetings and communal consciousness of the space.
The vast array of food justice work by Middletown residents, NEAT, and greater CT was put on display in fall 2019 at the Urban Gardening Symposium that NEAT organized!
In 2020, NEAT has been going through a consultancy process with Rosaida Morales Rosario, to recenter, work on its bylaws and finances, and determine priorities for a pandemic and post-pandemic world in the North End. NEAT has been surveying residents to see what they need most from the organization, and the board hopes to be able to enact the proper changes to reflect what the neighborhood wants to see. This year has also mostly been shaped by Middletown Mutual Aid. The NEAT Office at 654 Main Street was used for goods and resource distribution this summer and fall. NEAT is also now a fiscal sponsor for Middletown Mutual Aid, with direct cash payments to residents going through a NEAT bank account. Also this summer, NEAT hosted a program for the employment of three local youth through the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce’s Youth @ Work program. They learned the fundamentals of mutual aid, organizing, and even the community gardens.
Back in January of 2020, NEAT hosted a very informative and well-attended town hall meeting on planning and zoning in the city at the Mac 650 gallery! This event was super hopeful for the potential of NEAT to get back on the map. They then followed up with their first virtual town hall meeting, co-hosted by the City, in July. NEAT hopes to do more direct democratic engagement work like this in the near future, while also maintaining its value of access to those who need it the most.
See here for more news stories on NEAT’s recent work!
Since WesNEAT's inception in 2018, its projects and activities have included:
Staffing the NEAT Office at 654 Main Street. Answering the phone and speaking to folks who come in with questions. Directing folks to the right places when they are interested in the Farmers Market, the Community Gardens, and other NEAT programs. Helping residents navigate 211 and apply to social services.
Researching the prison re-entry landscape in the Middletown area. Working with Wesleyan's Center for Prison Education, the Middletown Probation Office, and the Wheeler Clinic's Alternatives in the Community Center to identify gaps.
Educating students and encouraging responsible participation in Middletown community meetings and forums, from planning and zoning meetings to city budget hearings to Charter review commission meetings. Curating event lists for students to get involved with community organizing and politics in Connecticut at large.
Supporting the activities of Middletown Mutual Aid. Read more here!
Running a months-long donation drive in Fall 2020 to bring student clothes donations, as well as personal care products, food, and cleaning supplies from WesShop to mutual aid requesters in Middletown's North End.
Running a community organizing program fully designed by 10 Middletown High School students! Learning from and collaborating with local and statewide organizations like the Middletown Racial Justice Coalition, the Middletown Youth Services Bureau, and the CT Black and Brown Student Union to create a holistic, informed program.