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Hot Dog Nights

Some neighbors in Jamaica Plain without a lot in common have found a way to get along.

On one side of South Street live white collar professionals; on the other, low income people in a housing project.

Bridging the divide are hot dogs. For ten years some of the neighbors have come together once a week in the summers for a cookout. WBUR's Monica Brady-Myerov reports.

TEXT OF STORY

VOICE: Hey you guys there's hot dogs!

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: About a dozen kids and adults line up before a folding table packed with dogs, buns, chips and sides. Under the shade of a tree, 10 year old Natalie Terrero is using disposable gloves to serve the hot dogs.

NATALIE TERRERO: What do you want with it? Ketchup mustard please

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Terrero says she's been coming to these weekly cookouts every Tuesday since she can remember and now she's old enough to help.

NATALIE TERRERO: I'm helping to do the hot dog night because I would love to volunteer.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: The South Street housing development is made up of squat three story brick buildings and concrete courtyards. Across the street is a trendy, bohemian neighborhood where houses can sell for half a million dollars. Not a lot of the private homeowners cross the street into the development.

But when they do, they get a hot dog and a hello from a woman with short grey hair in dreadlocks. She is Diane Love, known in the housing project as Miss Love.

DIANE LOVE: I love it because pp come together they come out they chit chat everybody gets together and you get to know who lives in the development and who doesn't. You get to know the businesses everybody donates.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: James Gate restaurant across the street sent over a pasta salad, Fernandez spa gave ice to keep the soda cold. Evelyn Barobee lives around the corner from the project.

EVELYN BAROBEE: The problem I think with the other developments is they aren't involved in community itself it's like something that sits off there and that's not true here.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Hot dog night appears to be unique. It began ten years ago after a spate of shootings and violence in the neighborhood. State Representative Liz Malia and other city officials were concerned young people didn't have anything to do. They asked them what they wanted. The answer was food.

LIZ MALIA: I think we originally called it hot dog therapy but it was really an attempt to try to just provide a location and an opportunity for people to get together. And it's a healthy thing it a chance to interaction around something that's real positive.

JOANNE WHITEHEAD: Are they getting too burned or about right.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Joanne Whitehead, who lives down the street from the development, is cooking up 150 hot dogs tonight. The cookout is now run by a loose association of neighbors. Mostly its kids from the development who came for the free dogs. But Whitehead says the effects of the community outreach last throughout the year.

JOANNE WHITEHEAD: Within a few years of doing this when Halloween came around the kids would come down the street up the stair and said hey, you're the hot dog lady so there was this identification.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Neighbors say there hasn't been a shooting in the development since the start of hot dog night. No one's studied whether there's a direct correlation, but if hot dogs buy goodwill in the housing project, that's OK for state rep Liz Malia.

LIZ MALIA: Whatever good comes out of it is fine. It's building relationships and building some trust that you can't really replicate any other way.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Maura Hennigan was a city counselor ten years ago and her office helped get the cookout started. Now, as magistrate for the criminal division of the Suffolk County courts she thinks the idea should be a model for other communities.

MAURA HENNIGAN: I think it' such a wonderful example of what I would love to see happen across the city its just so nice after 10 year it's quite a milestone to be able to have this sharing of community and what better way to do it then when you share a meal together.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Hennigan says it breaks down barriers. 12 year old Indy Fonseca comes weekly for other reasons.

INDY FONSECA: 103 because its fun and people hang around a lot.

MONICA BRADY-MYEROV: Is solving neighborhood strife as simple as hot dog night? Maybe not, but meeting someone new over a hot dog is.

For WBUR, I'm Monica Brady-Myerov.

This program aired on July 24, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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