[Excerpt of 1/14/19 article by Lucy Gellman; visit Arts Paper for the full piece]


Earlier this year, Horton said, several members began talking about how much they wished that the garden’s work days extended into the winter months. While they weren’t keen on being outside in the cold weather, they wanted something that could still bring people together and leave everyone feeling like they’d had a good workout.

At the time, Horton knew that the W.E.B. Community Management Team had money left over from the $10,000 it had received in Neighborhood Public Improvement (NPIP) funding from the city’s anti-blight Liveable City Initiative (LCI), a large portion of which went to the garden itself. Then one of the garden’s members mentioned that she knew a personal trainer who had grown up in the neighborhood. So Horton pitched it to the Community Management Team, receiving $3,444 for a sort of beta year. After this year, she said that the team will be applying for grant funding to keep the project going.

That number is lower than what most personal trainers charge, for which Horton said she considers the group very lucky. Russell, a 33-year-old who runs Action Fitness and lives just across the street on Carmel Avenue, offered to do the classes at a subsidized rate as a way of giving back to the community that raised him.

At W.E.B.’s second session last Saturday, Horton said the project’s main mission is to reduce obesity and high blood pressure and teach healthy nutrition in the neighborhood—all while fostering a sense of community and support. After each class, attendees have the option to record their weight and body fat percentage, tracking their progress from winter to spring, and spring to summer. In addition, she said that the project keeps a social aspect of the garden alive in some of the year’s coldest, dreariest months.

“I feel great about it,” she said. “We know we need to get in better shape, and we know we need to be healthier.”

The program comes right on time for the neighborhood, where classes unfold across from what some have dubbed a “fast food row” on Whalley Avenue. In 2016, DataHaven found that 13 percent of people living in New Haven’s would-be “Promise Zone” neighborhoods—the lowest-income areas of the city, of which Whalley and a section of Beaver Hills are part—struggled with diabetes, a contrast to just six percent in higher-income neighborhoods. A similar DataHaven community wellbeing survey repeated last year showed the same trend, indicating a public health crisis in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Now, Horton and Russell are hoping the sessions are part of the solution. Last Saturday morning, Russell watched as class members spread out across the room, a sea of bright lycra, cotton and fleece against its white tile and bright lighting. He nodded as Beyoncé’s “Get Me Bodied” pumped from a speaker over the room. Then he started the routine, an hour-long mix of stretching, core exercises and cardio intended to provide a full-body workout.