The Fruit Hill Neighborhood area began as a residential community in the mid 1700’s and is proud of the well kept historic homes that characterize our community. Today there are eight non-profit institutions along the one mile long winding roadway known as Fruit Hill Avenue. The Fruit Hill Neighborhood Association (FHNA) traces its roots to the “North Providence Improvement Association”, which was organized at the turn of the 20th Century. The minutes of Fruit Hill Improvement Association meeting dated 1904 addresses the absence of street lights between Smith Street and the Fruit Hill Elementary School (a distance of five blocks), because the young children were walking in darkness on the two lane road without sidewalks. The Town responded favorably.
The modern day neighborhood association was founded in the mid 1990’s by a group of neighbors, who were surprised and concerned to learn that St. Mary’s Home for Children, which had been a home for orphaned children for more than fifty years, sought a building permit to build two new high-secure residential buildings to house sixteen abused boys. This action was something the neighbors thought should have been explained to them with a public meeting rather than seeking a new building permit without explanation. These new buildings are secure facilities similar to those at the state Training School, where all doors and windows are locked and permission to do anything is first required. Obviously this was a potential major change in our neighborhood.
The transition of St. Mary’s from a home for orphans to a home for abused boys was not without incidents in the neighborhood. Prior to St. Mary’s new building plans, several times a month the boys and girls would occasionally leave without permission and run through the neighborhood. More often residents would regularly walk away from the St. Mary’s property and smoke and talk loudly near our homes. Occasionally residents would escape with help from old friends.
One incident in 1995 triggered action to learn more about St. Mary’s plans. Two boys were running wildly down a neighborhood street away from St. Mary’s, while a neighbor was backing out of her driveway. She almost ran over the the boys. When she called St. Mary’s, they did not show much concern. Then and now there is easy access to and from St. Mary’s from all directions. There is no enclosure with high fences anywhere. When St. Mary’s administration showed little interest in explaining their building project or the runaway children, the Fruit Hill Neighborhood Association was formed in early 1997. Eventually the organization sued to stop construction. The Rhode Island Superior Court allowed construction to continue, but required the two organizations to meet four times a year for seven years to provide a framework for harmony. This lead to meaningful discussions which allowed representatives of Fruit Hill Neighborhood Association to meet on a regular basis with the St. Mary’s Director and key staff members of the home.
The relations between St. Mary’s and the neighborhood are much improved. FHNA now meets regularly in the St. Mary’s Home for Children conference room. A staff member of St. Mary’s is now a Board member of FHNA. The children at St. Mary’s are seldom seen outside of the property.
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