Man turns life around with help of New Haven community center, lifts others in need

New Haven

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – It has been a tough year trying to find a new normal during a pandemic and the changes that have meant for all of our lives. Many say one thing that has sustained has been the community.

This Thanksgiving holiday, there’s one story of how surrounding yourself with a village can get us all through even the toughest of times.

One year ago, Marquise Reid was nodding off on PCP.

“I was doing stuff to box stuff out, but stuff was still there though,” Reid said.

Today, Reid is a completely different man. It shows what a difference a year and unrelenting love can make.

“Now, I hang out with positive people getting positive results. Back then I was getting negative results,” Reid explained.

Honda Smith says she saw an opportunity to intervene in Reid’s life, a second chance she wishes someone had given her own sister, Annette Smith, who was murdered in 1997.

“I wish that someone at the time would have helped my sister who was out there on drugs, dust, crack, and saved her before her life was taken away from her. So, I want to be that person for Marquise because my sister wasn’t reached. To let him know that someone does care,” Smith said.

It took time and years of reaching out, but something changed inside Reid in March. He took Smith’s outstretched hand and she led him to the community center she’s created on Valley Street in New Haven. Together, they provide a safe place for kids, parents, and neighbors to get a hot meal, play games, learn life skills, have access to career advice, and meditation.

The center officially opened this month.

“Since then, we’ve had over 341 people enter into this building, and that’s remarkable for one month,” Smith said.

Reid says there’s one constant that keeps people coming back, including him. The reason he can sit together with his sons and refuse the call of the streets.

“[Honda’s] here with us every day. She’s our motivation,” Reid said.

This Thanksgiving he’s thankful to be alive. It’s through the community center that Reid met the Cunninghams: Jordan and his dad George.

“I’ve been in every prison in the State of Connecticut. I’ve done fed time, sold drugs, sold weapons,” George said. But in 2005, George found absolution.

“I got shot up, I was on my death bed. I had exploratory surgery so I saw some things that changed me. It was the love of Christ,” George explained.

He knows it takes a village. He is relieved his son found a path away from the life he himself led.

“I’m the youth ambassador here. I’m about to start producing a high school sports broadcast,” Jordan said.

They both credit the community they found with Smith and Reid and others who have joined them. Jordan found an opportunity to paint the walls, host events, and mentor his own friends to help them do what he did – come off the street corner.

“Everybody’s telling us that we can do this, but no one is showing them, so I’m showing them you can do anything,” Jordan said.

The center is located at 333 Valley Street.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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