Fran's first brush with community organizing
We were living on Carroll street in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Fran had started on her PhD at the CUNY Graduate Center. As the spring of '73 approached, and Carroll Street came alive with people taking advantage of warmer weather, Fran took to the street. She would never hesitate in talking to people. Her sales experience taught and strengthened her so she did not take rejection personally, and she knew how to listen sincerely when other people talked about issues important to them.
She befriended several people who had lived on the block since childhood as well as several new homeowners, "yuppies," as they were called. She quickly found what the dynamic on the block was all about. There were many tenants and homeowners who had lived on the block a long time and their connections were based on ethnic, religious, social, economic, and related sources.
Fran is an organizer. Compulsive and detail oriented she managed to organize the first block meeting on February 18, 1973. The meeting was held in Saint Francis Xavier's auditorium and some 60 residents attended to "discuss, among other topics, neighborhood problems and determine how a block association can combat crime." Dues were set at $5 per family to support block activities and pay bills. Committees were set up about senior citizens, young people, security, sanitation, beautification and health care. Everyone at that first meeting signed on to a committee.
The next meeting was scheduled for March 18th and was attended by over 80 people. The guest speaker was Sgt. Tartaglia, Community Affairs Officer for the NYC Police Department. He noted, "I have never seen such a large group of people for any block association meeting I have ever attended."
That's Fran. She was so successful because she rang every doorbell on the block, talking to residents, selling them on the block association.
She organized the first block party for July 28, 1973 into a success with raffles, a band, pot luck dinner, children rides, plant sale, food and beverages for sale. This was the first party on the block since the one held celebrating the end of World War II.
Throughout her life Fran had learned that you fix things by recognizing that a problem exists, defining it, addressing it with input from many different sources, determining solutions and bringing resources to bear on the problem. By the end of the summer there was no person on the block who didn't know Fran and how active and involved a person she was. Our home became a meeting place for adults to discuss problems for children to relax from the problems that they faced in their homes....even if they just needed a bathroom.
I remember coming home and seeing four children, ages six to 12 or so, sitting in the dark on the couches in our living room. I asked Fran, "What's going on?"
"With what?" she replied.
"There are kids sitting in our living room!"
"Oh," she said. "They needed some quiet time. With so many other siblings it is never quiet in their homes. and sometimes their mother locks them out of the house so they can have some privacy. So I let them come here whenever they need to.:
Showing my bias I said, "Fran, I don't know if these kids can be trusted. They could steal something, you know."
"No they won't," she said confidently.
And they never did.