(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2012)
A group of Dorchester residents came together Friday night for a holiday party. While such gatherings may seem like a common event for the season, residents said their event was a sign of the work they have been putting into their community.
The neighbors call themselves the Four Street Neighborhood Watch and hail from Bowdoin-Geneva’s Hendry Street, Clarkson Street, Trent Street, and Coleman Street. Gathering at Bowdoin Street’s Pasciucco Development on Friday, residents chatted about neighborhood happenings over Spanish rice and BBQ chicken, celebrating the calm that has returned to the neighborhood that has a violent past and experienced another violent summer.
“When we first moved here  it was a troubled neighborhood,” said Henrique Fernandes, a 43-year-old waiter and Hendry Street resident. “Some told us, ‘Welcome, but keep your mouth shut and don’t say anything’."
The area has some of the highest concentration of summertime violence in the city, according to the Globe.
Organizing a neighborhood watch in 2010, residents fought back. Working with the city to get troubled properties shut down, more police presence on the streets, and connecting homeowners, residents organized to turn a series of streets into a community.
“I didn’t know what a crime watch was when we first got together,” said Fernandes. “Now we’re moving forward.”
Coordinating with the city of Boston, the Boston Police Department, local elected officials, and the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation, residents organized and targeted the properties and the people bringing problems to the neighborhood.
Shutting down a house at 8 Hendry St. and eventually closing another “problem property” at 37 Hendry St. residents said the street is getting better even though the summer block party had to be canceled because of threats and fear of area drug dealers.
“It’s a huge relief to come together after the victory of 37 [Hendry] being gone,” said Shirley Montanez, a 33-year-old stay at home mom who moved to Coleman Street in 2009 and was one of the organizers who called off the summer block party. “It’s [the neighborhood] getting better though. This is our home and we have to let people know we won’t be intimidated and we’re not going anywhere.”
At Friday’s celebration, music played out of the center’s community room. Kids mashed at the piano and parents picked at cake as they talked about what brought them to the area in the first place.
“I was excited when I first moved here,” said Van Der Meer, a 58-year-old professor and Clarkson Street homeowner who moved to the neighborhood in 2011. “But it was open season in terms of drugs and violence. It’s been better than it has been so that’s a good sign.”
Although Meer said he doesn’t regret buying in the neighborhood, he acknowledged that there is still a lot of work ahead of residents.
“The community has to make sure to stay active and push the city and the politicians to do what they should do,” said Meer. “The community has to also take ownership”
Meer was one of the area’s new resident who took advantage of offers by the Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation’s first-time homebuyers program, similar to another program offered in the area by the city.
Properties that had been bought up by the non-profit were sold to people who wanted to move into the neighborhood and become part of the community.
“Houses use to be boarded up, we all knew about the violence in the area,” said Hermitao Rosa, a community organizer for Dorchester Bay. “But once more people came in and started renovating it seemed like it was getting better. In the past it was hard to see residents feeling comfortable to do something like that.”
Now houses are being spruced up, boards covering windows are being taken down, and kids are again playing in the street. Some changes on the street have been drastic, but other changes have been smaller victories.
"We now have to make sure our house don't become a problem," said Fernandes. "Each family has to take responsibility."
From new street trash cans, emptied by neighbors, and trees on the block, to newly constructed fences to keep criminals from running behind houses, residents are beginning to feel like they not only can leave their homes, but be part of their street and community.
“It is absolutely better with a big A,” said Denise Delacruz, a 45-year-old Coleman Street resident and stay at home mom as she dished out desserts Friday. “It hasn’t been easy, we had to put up with a lot of things, but we have support and we’re making progress.”