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ESL Community Impact Partner: 19th Ward Community Association

Q&A with Lashay Harris, 19th Ward Community Association Square Fair, Chair

April 2024

The 19th Ward Community Association has been hosting its annual square fair since 1965! Preparations are underway for this year’s event that focuses on bringing together neighbors, family, and friends to show their appreciation for their neighborhood and cultural differences.

We invite you to learn more about the important history of this event, and the 19th Ward Community Association, below.

Arnett Branch Library Building

Tell us about the 19th Ward Community Association.

The 19th Ward Community Association is a group of neighbors striving to preserve the neighborhood's residential character. The Association fosters and encourages cooperation in a multi-cultural community. Our mission is, "To create a conscious multi-racial community where individual and cultural differences are celebrated and where people share a sense of community."

The 19th Ward Community Association, located in the southwest of the City of Rochester, represents about 22,000 residents and is one of the United States' oldest continuously active neighborhood associations. The Association is an all-volunteer-run, 501(c) (3) not-for-profit organization. The district borders clockwise from West Avenue, Genesee Street, Scottsville Rd, and the Erie Canal.

Its history.

It was founded in 1965 during a time when the re-zoning of the city was happening along with blockbusting. Blockbusting is the practice of persuading owners to sell property cheaply because of the fear of people of another ethnic or social group moving into the neighborhood, and then profiting from that sale by reselling at a higher price. The city was looking at making the 19th Ward an R-2 zoned neighborhood instead of an R-1 zoned neighborhood. R-1 zone neighborhoods are low-density residential districts intended to maintain residential areas at relatively low densities. The residents of the 19th ward were against both blockbusting and rezoning to an R-2 neighborhood (medium density residential districts) as both would have significantly changed the character and overall landscape of the neighborhood. Residents wanted to take a stand. They formed the association, and their mission was to protect the neighborhood and fight against racism while maintaining their neighborhood model.

How has your organization evolved?

The 19th Ward Community Association used to be an all-volunteer-run organization led by households that survived on a single income. Therefore, volunteers were in abundance in serving the Association. Today, families have two-income households, and the likelihood of having availability to volunteer has been challenging. The 19WCA is one of the oldest neighborhood advocacy associations in Rochester, blazing a trail on fighting issues regarding zoning/housing, blockbusting, keeping neighborhood schools, and public safety. The 19WCA has 21 delegates representing areas of the neighborhood.

What kind of community impact do you see from the fair?

The 19WCA Square Fair began in 1965 and was established to raise funds and bring neighbors and the community together. It started with the Association focusing on hot dog and soda sales.

The overall feedback from attendees of the 2023 Square Fair was people were very happy with the festival. They loved that the festival focused on children and family programming. Participants were engaged, and it was clear that food vendors, business vendors, and craft vendors were organically solicited during the event. The event brings community members together to provide activities and entertainment. Small businesses have the opportunity to sell their goods and services for a modest fee which supports the operation of the 19WCA. Nonprofit community agencies participate to share their services and offerings. The Square Fair provides the community economic, cultural, and social impact and serves as the 19WCA largest fundraising event.

Can you share a personal story about the impact of the fair?

The Office of Mental Health shared the following about their visit: “This year I attended the Square Fair festival for the first time; it was an event that I feel set the tone for what community events are supposed to be and feel like. The performances truly represented Rochester culture and the community that lives here. There were some kids that stood on stage in front of a huge crowd and shared their talents with the community, and the community received them and gave them their flowers. The food vendors were great. In addition to the food vendors, there were mental health resources, substance use resources, clothes, and jewelry vendors. Lastly, local law enforcement and a lot of community leaders came out to show love and support as well. The event had everything that was substantial to a community event, but most importantly, it felt communal because it was what we wanted.”

What has it been like working with ESL?

ESL has supported the 19WCA Annual Square Fair for the past four years despite the two-year break due to COVID-19. The staff is very professional and supportive during the process.

Is there anything people can do to get involved or help your mission?

We would love to have volunteers to help with the 2024 Square Fair.

For more information about volunteer opportunities, or any other questions you may have, please email