Painting Apartments & Building Peace in New Haven

I spent my Thursday painting an apartment in Newhallville, New Haven with the 12 young people from Palestine, Israel, and Jordan and the Christian Community Action. This service project was one of seven offered with IWagePeace.org and Jerusalem Peacebuilders’ Interfaith Service Day. 

I had heard about this service day from the Rev. Canon Nicholas Porter, Executive Director for Jerusalem Peacebuilders. Nicholas was a guest on the Coffee Hour at The Commons podcast (you can listen to his episode here), and he introduced the Interfaith Work Day and collaboration with IWagePeace.org. 

According to an event recap email from Bruce Barrett, Founder of IWagePeace.org, there were “Twenty-two youth from Israel and Palestine, plus 125 local volunteers and staff,” bringing the total to “over 150 in attendance.” 

Folks gathered at the New Haven Green at 8:00 a.m. to hear a message from Bruce sharing the intention behind the Interfaith Service Day, how it came to be, who was involved (including introducing the Jerusalem Peacebuilders), and what the various service projects were for the day. Then individuals chose one service project to participate in for the rest of the morning. 

The service projects included:

I joined the apartment painting service project. With the leadership of the Rev. Bonita Grubs, the group of 15 hopped on a bus and went to a former school-turned-apartment-building in the Newhallville neighborhood of New Haven. The building was purchased and converted into low-income housing several years ago. However, that program was eventually defunded. Now with the work of Christian Community Action, these apartments will be renovated, and offered to families along with employment assistance, social services, and more.   

Before we got our paint brushes, we learned where some of the Jerusalem Peacebuilders were from. All were high school students; they were from Jordan, Israel, Palestine, and America, some were Muslim, Christian, and Jewish. All were dedicated to peacemaking through genuine and humble engagement with other cultures and persons. 

When we broke into our different groups and went into the apartments to paint, one would assume these young persons had been friends forever. Maybe it comes along with the territory of painting an apartment, or just doing any work with your hands, but it brings out the silliness in all of us. Our group was laughing, listening and singing along to Elton John, and having conversations around our own human experiences – how we were so similar despite our different contexts. 

Half of the painting crew!

I met Ruth from Hartford, a Jewish woman who is dedicated to peacemaking and heard about the service day from a friend. While we were covered in paint, I asked her what she thought of the day. “It is very sweet to see the Jerusalem Peacebuilding kids interact with each other,” she said, “to see one of the Jewish kids teach a Muslim kid Hebrew on the bus. [Everyone] just interacting and creating a sense of community.” 

This apparently was the same experience on the other service project sites as well. Bruce stopped by our worksite and I asked him how the day has been. “It has been great,” he said, “It’s been fun to see [the day] come together. [Peacebuilding work] is spiritually enriching and challenging. Interfaith work demands humility.” 

When the group returned to the New Haven Green, we were invited to pizza and to help finish painting a 48-foot long and 14-foot high billboard. The billboard, designed by muralist Russ Rainbolt, will display its “We’re all in this together” message of peace on either I-91, I-84, or I-95, showing to everyone that peace is the future. 

Billboard design by Russ Rainbolt

If you see the billboard on your drive, be sure to comment below and let us know. To learn more about IWagePeace visit IWagePeace.org

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