The Melnyk Clement Family
An Interview with The Melnyk Clement Family
Clifton now has a Pop Up Puppy Party (PUPP) each month at a privately owned lot on Ludlow Ave. It’s built around community and being good neighbors. Cassandra, Nestor, Troy and Sophia are a close-knit family whose initial goal was to do something cool in their neighborhood. Through mentorship and a grant from Starfire, they took steps as a family throughout the next year to collaborate with neighbors and bring this project to life. Here’s our conversation with the parents, as they reflect back on their progress and how it has shifted their mindsets to want more community in their life.
Nestor: What made the PUPP happen was the idea, the spark; It got people to rally behind some thing. Clifton has a lot of dogs, but no dog park. Then it was all the other people who really organized it and put it together. It was a way to find what gifts others had, and what their passions were, and everyone contributed in that way. Cassandra: The neighbors are talking about it, the neighbors heard about it, the people involved are excited about it. The hardest thing is opening your heart and asking for help and explaining your vision. With this project, we always say it’s not about Troy. It’s allowing Troy to be a part of a community. Expressing that is tough.
N: I think that it’s finding the balance and having Troy be a part of PUPP versus it being about Troy. This is a park that is inclusive, but we’re not doing an “inclusive park.” I think that emphasis was a little bit of a challenge.
C: And it’s so much more personal. The dog park isn’t emotional, but trying to have my son be a part of the community is emotional. Having him be somebody that people want to give a high five, or say hi to, or just know that they can say hi to him—people don’t know that. He can’t talk, so right away you think, “Oh maybe he’s ‘less than.’” They just don’t know and we’re opening up and saying, “Here’s a man that’s different than you. We want you to know that he’s important.”
For me, it’s like something has changed. We were told no Troy’s entire life. We were told no by a lot of disability services. We kind of withdrew and became isolated. But I think, maybe that was the wrong way to approach things anyway. Maybe we should have always been thinking about, “This is where we live, in Clifton. How should we be including Troy in Clifton?” Looking to the neighborhood for support instead of looking to disability services for support. “
"I think we’ve been happier here in this last year than ever and it’s because we included our neighbors…”
We’re finding we need our neighbors. We need our community to have a good life and to be happy. I think we’ve been happier here in this last year than ever and it’s because we included our neighbors in our lives, and our lives include Troy. He’s part of it and if you get us you also get him. And people are cool with it we’re finding out.
I don’t really know what exactly will come of this (PUPP) but I hope people care about him more and want to be in his life in some way… somebody to come over and sit in the rocker on the porch with him or watch a short video or something like that. If I really think about it, Troy will need help all his life. I don’t think I would expect any of my neighbors to be that help. What I would hope is just people being good loving neighbors. Neighbors who would want to visit Troy. Who would tell me “I saw Troy at the market and something didn’t seem right.” What I want is neighbors helping me help him be happy. That’s what I’m thinking of right now. My son’s 19. I wish we would have thought about this earlier, but I feel like it’s never too late. He has a long life to live and we want it to be a good life.