You may have noticed that there's a tremendous amount of energy these days in Akron. Many are working within the neighborhoods to revitalize and breathe new life in under-valued spaces. Akron Better Block in North Hill received a lot of attention a few weeks back--and the event seemed to be a spectacular success. But there's more going on than just Better Block. I'd like to share with you the work of City Hope--a group working in a west side Akron neighborhood in Highland Square. I recently met Jeremy D. Lile on the Akron2Pittsburgh trip. The more we talked, the more I grew impressed with his hard work and dedication to serve.
The annual Crestland Park Clean-Up takes place in April each year. Below is Jeremy's well-spoken summary of the event and his experiences. At the bottom, you'll find contact information to find out more or to join the movement. --Joanna Wilson
City Hope's Annual Crestland Park Clean-Up Project
Essay by Jeremy D. Lile
"Neighbors make neighborhoods." That was my takeaway from our 4th annual Crestland Park neighborhood clean up and cookout. Three years ago, we started with a mix of folks from the neighborhood and folks from without...we were essentially pulling in anyone who was willing to help clean things up.
This year, with the exception of one family, every volunteer came from within the neighborhood and surrounding streets. That is something to celebrate! We are seeing the need in our own community and taking care of that need as a community. We also celebrated that, after four years of hard work in the neighborhood, there was less trash to clean up. Our first year, we covered an entire devil strip with bags, tires, computers, wood, etc. We even boarded up a couple of homes! This year, the 40+ volunteers canvassed the neighborhood in a short amount of time and came back with less garbage. That tells us something is working!
Several years ago, a group of us wanted to do something to show love to our neighborhood so we started asking, "What would look like love?" That's when we decided the answer was "A good cleaning and a shared meal." We love the vision of Keep Akron Beautiful and their Clean Up Akron Month initiative. However, we felt like it wasn't quite enough to just clean up together. We wanted to grow a sense of community that goes beyond a service project. The first year, despite miserable weather conditions, we had over 15 new families participate in the event. And then we noticed something: people were starting to come out of their homes more. And people were starting to get together outside of programmed events. And new friendships were blossoming.
We knew we were on to something good, and so we decided to keep this going as an annual event. It's a great way to kick start the warmer weather and encourage people to get out and get to know each other.
The basics are pretty simple: we reserve the Community Pride Trailer from KAB; we hand out flyers throughout the neighborhood the week before; we start about 9:00 a.m. and walk through every street in Crestland Park picking up trash; and then we finish with a cookout at someone's home where we provide the grilled items and everyone brings a side dish and/or dessert. It's really that simple. Anyone can do it.
The goals for the clean up are quite simple: (1) Clean up and beautify the neighborhood and (2) Celebrate our community through a shared meal.
Why Crestland Park? We chose Crestland Park because it is where we live. Sometimes those are the people and places that are hardest to love. So, we decided to start close to home and expand out from there. Also, Crestland Park is, in many ways, a microcosm of our city. We are demographically diverse - ethnically, racially, socioeconomically, age, etc. So, we believe that if it can happen here, then it can happen anywhere in our city and beyond.
The group of people [that comes together] is really the best part. We started our day at the Community Pride Trailer (thank you KAB!) which was parked in front of our community garden (thank you Let's Grow Akron!). As we started to gather, an elderly neighbor came out of her home with a basket full of suckers for the kids. She knew that she wasn't physically capable of helping, but this was her way of participating. Everybody participates!
As I wrote earlier, the group was pretty much all from the neighborhood and a walkable distance. We had over 50 volunteers ranging in age from 60s to 3.
That's what I love so much. The kids get a chance to serve in their own community and play a vital role. They represented at least half the group. Over the years, we have moved from being neighbors by proximity of homes to becoming friends by proximity of heart.
That's why after reflecting upon the number of lives and the diversity of lives that had been touched after this year's event, I thought to myself "Neighbors make neighborhoods." We could have an outside group come in and clean up, but there wouldn't be any sense of ownership, of pride, of dignity. It's the people that matter. Everyone does their part and that's what makes this a great place to live.
For more information about City Hope, check out their website: http://www.cityhopeakron.com/
or follow along with them on Facebook: City Hope Community Development