Editor’s Note: The following is Part II of a story about Northside United, a new organization seeking to advocate for residents of Ithaca’s Northside community.

Read Part I here. 

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Bus To Nature: Route 22

ITHACA, N.Y. — Residents of Ithaca’s Northside community say many of them struggle to find adequate and affordable childcare.

“People who are working, they want to have a safe place where they can have their children why they go to their jobs,” said Common Council member Seph Murtagh, who represents the city’s Second Ward.

The issue may be most important to people who need childcare outside of the hours covered by the city’s public school programs.

“A lot of the Burmese families want to go to (English as a Second Language) classes, but they have young children and they can’t afford any of the cost,” said Karen Friedeborn, a member of Northside United, the new organization advocating for that neighborhood’s residents.

Photo posted on Northside United’s Facebook page
Photo posted on Northside United’s Facebook page

See related: Often overlooked, Ithaca’s Northside residents try building clout

“I think that what’s lacking and what’s really missing, especially for folks who may not have a ton of money, who are working and want to work and want to enter the workforce, but have young kids, what do you do with your kids during the day?” Murtagh said.

In response, the group is hoping to directly provide childcare for those who need it. A sub-group of the Northside United organization has been formed to tackle the childcare problem, and Friedeborn said she hopes it will lead to some concrete amelioration of the problem.

As for the city, Murtagh was unsure what the appropriate response would be.

“I’m not exactly sure what role the city will have to play with that. It’s possible that some resources will be put in that direction,” he said.

A More Beautiful Community

Another important concern of the group is how to make the neighborhood a more beautiful place.

“We want to face-lift our community,” said Irene Dixon, a member of the group’s steering committee.

The group has attacked the issue on several fronts — from the very basic, like the addition of a trashcan in a park, to trying to address the complex problem of derelict private properties.

The first major success came in a very simple way when it won a battle to put a public trashcan in Conway Park.

“There was concern about litter over in Conway Park,” Dixon explained, “so we lobbied the city about that.”

Murtagh explained that this was easier said than done.

“It does seem like it would be a very simple thing to do, but this is the way things often tend to be with city government, things that seem simple are actually very complicated … There’s concern about people putting household trash in the public trashcan, or that it might be tipped over,” he said.

Despite the apparent simplicity of the task, the residents believe that impact of a cleaner park can be profound.

“Personally, I do believe that any change that we’re going to see in our society or in our politics has to start at the most fundamental level; so, in other words, we have to create that change in our own neighborhoods,” said steering committee member Linda Holzbaur.

Room For the Kids

Playground connoisseur Serenity Dixon, 12, has proven that adults do not have a monopoly on improving the community.

Dixon has begun to organize a push to build a neighborhood playground designed for an older population of children.

“The concern was that all of the playgrounds in the neighborhoods were only for little kids, but Serenity and her friends felt like there needed to be some playgrounds for older kids,” Friedeborn said.

This plan did not come from Dixon alone, but is the cumulative work of many children from throughout the neighborhood.

For Serenity’s mother, Irene, the impact of a good playground should not be underestimated.

“I think that having a playground for preteens and teens is huge, because it gives them something to get involved with and helps them get to know each other, which gives them something to do other than roaming the neighborhood and getting into some things that they probably shouldn’t be doing,” she said.

Serenity said that the name of the playground had not been decided yet. She hopes to get input from the other children.

Rubin Danberg Biggs

Rubin Danberg Biggs is an intern with the Ithaca Voice. He can be emailed at rdanbergbiggs@ithacavoice.com.