Dream House

N ear sunset on a weekday afternoon, drive up or down Dixwell Avenue for an uplifting sight: The lights are on at Q House, and kids are inside. In the gym, they’re shooting baskets and chasing each other around orange cones. In a conference room across the hall, they’re watching a movie. Upstairs, they’re playing ping pong in the game room and Tic-Tac-Roll in the not-yet-finished recording studio, where they’re also doing math homework.

After well over a decade of dreaming, planning and construction, Q House—officially, Dixwell Community House—is back. This third incarnation of the neighborhood’s vibrant community center is window-lined, wrapped in an African-inspired pattern and sitting close to the corner of Dixwell Avenue and Foote Street. Inside, the presence of nearly 70 kids ages 7 to 12, all enrolled in the afterschool program of the New Haven nonprofit Leadership, Education & Athletics in Partnership (LEAP), is just the beginning.

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Mardi Gras presented by the New Haven Free Public Library

The new Q House will soon be home to the Stetson branch of the New Haven Free Public Library, which is ferrying books across the street and beefing up its collection to fill a two-story space that will double its size. Across the building’s central hallway, walls are framed out and construction is moving forward on a two-story clinic for the Cornell Scott-Hill Health Center, with plans to open late this spring offering dental, pediatric, behavioral health and medical services in a space more than twice the size of its current neighborhood clinic. The Dixwell/Newhallville Senior Center at Q House has already opened on the second floor with two recreation rooms, a kitchen and a roof deck that boasts a sweeping view of the neighborhood and the capacious sky, although Omicron has temporarily shut it down. The senior center will serve both drop-ins and a senior club that meets weekly, says Henry Fernandez, executive director of LEAP, which has been contracted to manage the building and its programming.

Q House’s own spaces, which will soon be available for reservation, are already being used not only by LEAP but also by a basketball program, a veterans group and several other neighborhood organizations. The building includes, on the first floor, a multipurpose gym with a full-size basketball court, an industrial kitchen, a fitness center, a teen lounge and community conference rooms. Upstairs are a dance studio, art center, recording studio, game room and history museum. Outside, neighbors are already using the small running track, and the rebuilt Daniel Stewart Plaza, named for an author who wrote about the Black history of New Haven, will be home to a CitySeed farmers’ market starting in June. Q House will also offer classes in yoga, capoeira, art, music recording, cooking and more. Signups will begin later this month. Future joint programming among Q House tenants is expected as well.

Eventually, the building will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekdays, with weekend hours to be determined. But the pandemic has made for a bumpy, “start-and-stop” opening, delaying delivery of furniture and equipment and shutting down programming, says Rachel Kline Brown, LEAP’s director of development and communications. LEAP was looking forward to hosting about 300 attendees of its annual LEAP Year fundraiser in the gym but has had to shift to a hybrid model. Tickets for the popular event, in which participants have dinner with experts on a variety of topics, are on sale through February 20.

The first Dixwell Community House opened in 1924, about two blocks south of its current location in a relatively small two-story brick building, with the mission of serving as a settlement house for Black newcomers who were part of the Great Migration. In 1969, it moved to its current corner, housed in an ill-fated, energy-inefficient Brutalist building constructed during the mid-century wave known as urban renewal. Burdened by financial trouble, Q House closed in 2003. But its roots in the community were deep, and in 2006 a movement to reinvent and resurrect it began. “I think one thing that makes this place special is that there had been the Q House before, and so people kind of had a vision for what it could be,” Kline Brown says. “That was a powerful motivator.”

The project extended over three mayoral administrations under the leadership of a 22-member Advisory Board led by Ward 22 alder Jeanette Morrison, who has been involved since the planning stages. Funding came from a state grant and fundraising efforts by the library and Cornell Scott, and the city provided construction oversight. Q House is now owned by the city and administered by the Advisory Board, which is raising funds for an endowment to be held at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. The long-term vision, Kline Brown says, is for that fund to run Q House. In the short term, however, annual funding will come from the city and from a LEAP-run fundraising campaign, which together must cover the $600,000 needed for yearly programming and administrative costs.

LEAP families—among the first to get inside Q House and take advantage of all it has to offer—are thrilled with the space, says Ramzia Issa, site coordinator for LEAP, who started as a LEAP leader-in-training at 14, rose up through the program and is now an Albertus Magnus graduate and a full-time employee. Many of the parents remember the old Q House, she says. “It’s been great to see how that trickles down [from] their generation, like: ‘Oh, I was a kid here at the Q House. We were here every day, every weekend.’ And now their kids get to experience the same things.”

Dixwell Community House, a.k.a. Q House
197 Dixwell Ave, New Haven (map)
Mon-Fri 9am-9pm, Sat TBD
(203) 773-0770 | [email protected]
www.dixwellqhouse.org

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Images 1 and 6 provided courtesy of LEAP. Images 2-5 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 4 features Henry Fernandez and Rachel Kline Brown.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is a writer and communications pro whose perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the Green and a coffee milkshake. She posts somewhat-weekly content on her YouTube channel, Better Book Clubs.

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