By Mary Beth
Beacon Journal home writer
Marissa Blewitt knows that mowing vacant lots and painting porches isn’t going to save Akron’s University Park neighborhood.
But every transformation has to start somewhere.
Blewitt, an organizer with Neighborhood Network of University Park, was among approximately 150 volunteers and community representatives who descended on a section of Roselawn and Excelsior avenues Friday in a spruce-up blitz called Neighborhood Reborn. The project was intended to make the struggling East Akron neighborhood a safer and more attractive place, a first step in the long process of building community pride and attracting new homeowners.
“This isn’t a done-in-a-day project,” said Blewitt, whose organization is an offshoot of the neighborhood redevelopment group University Park Alliance. “The real work is to come.”
That’s not to say there wasn’t plenty of work going on Friday. Volunteers — many sporting T-shirts bearing the Habitat for Humanity logo or United Way’s “Live United” slogan — busied themselves with tasks such as trimming overgrown shrubbery, building porch steps and hauling tires and other trash out of a ravine. Circular saws whined behind the rock music that drifted from speakers set up by radio station the Summit (91.3-FM).
The original plan was for a smaller-scale neighborhood cleanup and an artistic board-up of four vacant homes in the neighborhood, said Rochelle Sibbio, president and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Summit County. Artistic board-ups involve covering windows and doors of vacant homes with decorative panels instead of plywood, so the houses appear to be occupied.
But the organizers saw the opportunity to do more. They brought other organizations on board, plus several departments from the city of Akron. Sibbio said Habitat obtained $10,000 in grant money from Huntington National Bank and another $1,000 from Omnova Solutions to make exterior repairs and improvements to the 11 houses in the neighborhood that are occupied by their owners.
Those repairs included porch painting, landscaping work and new exterior doors, retaining walls and porch steps, she said. It also included removal of some trees that were putting houses at risk.
Resident Donna Christy proudly showed off the new gravel driveway her family shares with its next-door neighbor. She and her husband, Dean, spread 2½ tons of gravel supplied as part of the spruce-up project, she said.
“I’m glad they’re doing this. I really appreciate this,” said Christy, whose neat house on Roselawn has been her home for 34 years. Before that, it belonged to Dean Christy’s grandmother.
The Christys have seen prostitution and drugs in the neighborhood. They were attacked a few years ago in one of the vacant lots that dot the neighborhood.
But they’re committed to the neighborhood, they said. Donna Christy likes being able to walk her granddaughter to Mason Park Community Leaning Center, and they enjoy the proximity to the University of Akron’s InfoCision Stadium.
They’re hopeful the cleanup will lead to better things. “I would like to see families come in here with small kids,” Donna Christy said.
Like the Christys, the organizers of Friday’s cleanup hope that effort is just the start — not only for the Roselawn-Excelsior neighborhood, but for other pockets of Akron.
Habitat for Humanity has already applied for a grant to make similar improvements to an adjacent neighborhood, Silbbio said. And the organization’s website, https://neighborhoodreborn.com, invites people to nominate their own neighborhoods for improvements.
Blewitt of Neighborhood Network of University Park said her organization will be working to make those transformations happen by bringing together organizations and individuals who can effect change — “trying to connect those dots,” she said.
Already, she’s pleased by the way the early efforts have brought the neighbors of Roselawn and Excelsior together.
“They now know each other,” she said. “And they have each other’s backs.”
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook atwww.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.