Archive for October, 2012

Block Captains Forum looks forward to continued engagement and skill building initiatives

October 8, 2012

Get Connected! Computer Training for Block Captains is underway for Fall 2012

What’s in store for block captains in West Philadelphia? After the August 4th Block Captains Forum, which brought together over 100 block captains, The Partnership CDC and SCI West are looking to continue engaging block captains and strengthening their ability to lead positive neighborhood change.

Evaluations from the Forum confirmed our hope: block captains found the workshops useful, relevant, and accessible. In fact, 100% of the 68 who filled out evaluation forms said they would recommend the Forum to a friend. Many called for a follow-up event, pointing out the need for more networking and learning opportunities. Overall, participants rated the forum a 3.6 out of 4 – somewhere between satisfied and very satisfied.

  

  

The first opportunity we’ll be offering as part of the Block Captains Institute is a basic computer workshop that will help every block captain get connected to the Internet. Participants of the Get Connected! Computer Training Program for Block Captains will sign up for a Gmail account, register with the West Philadelphia Block Captains Forum email bulletin board, create and learn how to use a Facebook profile, and explore phila.gov and other useful resources on the web. This fall, twelve training sessions will be offered on weekday evenings and weekend days from October to December. The goal is to improve the skills of some 200 block captains before the New Year. This program is up and running, so you should contact The Partnership CDC to enroll and get connected! (See below)

Looking forward into 2013, we are considering offering in depth, project-based seminars on vacant land management. All block captains in West Philly will have the chance to participate in an extended workshop on the topic. In addition, a smaller handful of block captains will actually work closely with NAC, The Partnership CDC, SCI-West and our partners to implement vacant land reclamation projects on their block.

Another idea, looking into Summer 2013, is to offer training for block captains and youth “junior block captains” from their blocks. The Junior Block Captains program would nurture leadership among young people to organize their communities for revitalization. We would be looking to block captains to identify and recruit appropriate youth leaders in their neighborhood to join the program.

These last two ideas are still in development, though we are definitely excited for what’s in store for 2013. Be sure to look for next year’s Block Captains Forum, too, where we will celebrate our progress and set a course for the future.

> For more information, contact The Partnership CDC at 215-662-1612 or stop by 4020 Market Street.

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DB4 members talk about their activities, motivations, and life experiences (Unedited Transcript)

October 7, 2012

Interviewer’s note: Da Bottom 4… (also known as DB4) is a group of young people in Mantua, led by youth living in Mantua, that looks to engage the community in programs and activities to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, especially for young people.

To share the incredible story of DB4, I interviewed some of its members at one of their weekly meetings. I planned to incorporate the ideas of DB4 members into an article highlighting some of their activities and accomplishments thus far (See: “DB4 group offers Mantua youth opportunities for growth, change”). Ultimately, I found the raw interview dialogue to be honest, moving, and illuminating. DB4 members’ stories provide a glimpse of what it’s like to grow up in a neighborhood that is, on one hand, plagued by crime and poverty, and, on the other hand, blessed with resilience and community. Their stories demonstrate the power of youth leadership for neighborhood change. There are young people like this in every neighborhood, caught up in environments they didn’t choose, who carry the potential of the future. With a little guidance, encouragement, and support, they can do incredible things to improve the community for everybody.

VC

For the Mantua in Action (MIA) program, we got more kids than we needed. We were a little worried at first, but we did a lot of street outreach, going door-to-door for about two weeks. We only had two weeks, but we made it happen.

We changed the mindset of the community in a way, in the sense of getting parents to be more proactive about getting their kids into the program.

It has been going along well, in terms of kids showing up. Some programs are real successful, and some programs are iffy, but that’s just how it is when you try something new. It is a big project and summer program for Mantua. Drexel gave about $130,000 in resources.

The idea originally when we were coming up with it was to make the community more proactive, not just in action in the sense of sports, but just being involved. So by the parents even getting the kids there, that’s reaching a goal.

As well as giving a variety of sports and activities, not just physical sports, to choose from, outside of basketball and football. So long distance running, lacrosse, squash – they are the most successful programs, and they are the programs that naysayers said people in the community wouldn’t even like.  Providing new skills and recreational activities was the goal, and it seems like it is working.

We helped get jobs for a lot of teenagers down here as well. So there was a lot of people volunteering or working for that program this summer, and that gave them a chance to be off the streets, as well as keeping them out of trouble.

We did the HIV testing with Bebashi; tested about 40 people in 6 hours. Fortunately, we didn’t have any positives. But it did give a chance for people to get used to being tested. You know a lot of the people in the community are like, “I’m good, I’m alright. I don’t get into that.” We plan on implementing it monthly.

We are young people from the neighborhood. We are coming up with different activities and programs for us to be involved, so the younger kids can see us doing stuff, but on a level where it’s not phony. We’re just trying to keep that going because that’s how it was when we were growing up.

What do you think about that, TT? (This is TT’s first time at a meeting.)

TT

I think it’s chill. You’re trying to help the young ones. Definitely, with the nuts situations that are going on around here. It’s proactive.

VC

TT was on the news speaking about the broken sidewalks. He is a good example in terms of being proactive, talking to the media and having the city react on it in less than 24 hours. That just shows you the power of what we stand for.

Interviewer: I have a question for everyone. Tell me what matters most about DB4, as well as some story from your life that brought you here today.

TT

One thing about DB4 that motivates me is that it is my neighborhood and I want to make it better for the younger ones that are growing up, that know us, that see what we already do in the neighborhood, so it make them want to do what we doing or it make them want to at least try to make the Bottom [Mantua] a better place for themselves.

I got a nice little family, but I have been the black sheep of the family. I been locked up a bunch of times, I’ve done my dirt in the streets, but the whole time I had a heart for trying to make stuff better. I didn’t ever try to intentionally do bad stuff, to try to bring other people down. I did stuff to at least better my stay in this earth. I just want to help my community, that’s all.

CS

DB4 is outreach to me, and it is an outreach to a lot of people in this community. When you see little kids come up and say “are you part of DB4?” and you see older people say things about DB4, it’s really encouraging.

I first came from Mississippi, went to University City High School and I didn’t know nobody there, but the Bottom looked out for me.  They brought me under their wing. There were a lot of people hating from 46th street up. They taught me the game, they taught me the ropes. Ever since then people around this neighborhood are my brothers. They show me respect.

Me being out on the street, the stuff I did around here, it’s crazy. I did it because mostly I wanted to be part of the game, I was influenced. But the Bottom really looked out for me.

That’s how I feel about DB4, its’ another look out for me, but positive. It’s like Brotherly Love, like Philly. And I think that’s what DB4 is trying to show its own community, that we still got younger people out here that need that brotherly love and to show them the right way to go.

ST

I moved into this area probably 4 years ago. Before I came around this way, I was living down at 60th and market – they didn’t have no basketball or football, none of that.  I wish I had me some basketball when I was a young bull. It probably keeps some of these kids out of trouble. I think it’s a good thing to see, getting these kids into something instead of getting into the streets. If I had had somewhere to go play ball, with a structure, I probably wouldn’t have done a lot of the bad things I was doing.

CH

What he’s talking about is that after we get out of our meeting, we usually go in the gym and play around, play basketball.

VC

DB4, means hope, because when I was growing up, a lot of the older people in the street, there may have been a lot of negative stuff going on, but they always took time to have a cookout or have like little meetings, or just their swag, the way they talk to you. They would take you to the side and be that older sister or brother.

But it is reckless now. People are just being followers and everybody wants to be block against block. It didn’t used to be like that. You could walk wherever you wanted to.

No matter what you got going on outside of here, when you have a DB4 shirt, all that other stuff shuts down. And I have seen it. Some of our members have stuff going on in the street, but they respect what we are doing.

We are trying to create that change and hope as far as those things we do, the programs we are implementing, and be inspirational. You know, a lot of people just feel hopeless sometimes, and that’s what leads to a lot of the drug addiction, a lot of behaviors and decisions people make like trying to rob somebody. You know, when you try to get work every day and it doesn’t work, you start thinking about other things. But even if you can create and give them a part time gig, it creates hope and gives them inspiration. That’s what it means for me, us being the example and inspiration.

QU

One thing I do enjoy and like about DB4 is our constant consistency. You see a lot of programs come in and out of the neighborhood, who make all these promises and then never deliver. One thing I can say about DB4 is, we may be moving at a slow pace, but if we say we’re going to do something, we do it.

We meet every week and I am glad that I see so many young people that are dedicated to come every week. Some people you can’t even get them to come to class every day, but these people: you can get them to come every week, no charge. I think that speaks for the people that are here and for this generation.

Also, I think that we give hope not just to our young people,  but to our older people, who have seen our neighborhood go downhill for a long time. I think they look at us and say, “Oh, okay there are young people out there  that do care. Maybe there is something I can do to help, you know, it’s never too late.”

A lot of my family grew up around here. One thing about us, you would never know that we were related, and sometimes walking down the street I would see uncles or aunts getting high or selling drugs, and it was heartbreaking. But at the same time, I felt back then that there was nothing I could do, you know? You do what you want to do. But now that I’m older, and now that I see that there are other people like me that feel this way, who feel like there’s something I want to do but I don’t know where to go, I don’t have any direction. It feels good to see that we can be together, we can help, we don’t actually have to do it by ourselves!

TA

The reason why I joined DB4 was to make a change in my community. Since I was little and growing up I was seeing people getting shot, getting killed, getting locked up, but at the time, I always wanted to make a change. My number one goal in life is to help people, as long as I can, no matter what it is. The only reason I joined DB4 was to make a change in my community, to make a difference. I am happy when someone younger than me says “I’m going to join DB4.”

My mom has been on drugs since I was little, and now she’s cool. And I always wanted to help people on drugs and alcohol, I wanted to reach out. But now my mom, she’s doing good. I always wanted to make a change in my community. Arsin called me and asked you know do I want to be a part of something, and that’s how I joined DB4.

AH

The reason I joined DB4 is that I thought it was a good thing for our community. I am only 16, but growing up in this neighborhood, it was always violent. And before, I thought I wanted to be a cop and just arrest everybody, instead of saying “When I grow up, maybe I can help these people out.”

This group right here changes everything. I wear this shirt right here and kids are like, “Where did you get that shirt from?” And I have to explain everything about DB4. Helping out the community is something, I can’t some it up, but DB4 is a really good program that younger kids should get into.

When I was younger I used to live in the projects, and that’s where all the drama went down. As I got older, maybe 14, I was like, That’s not the way to go. And then DB4 came along and I thought, Maybe I can help these people selling drugs and maybe the ones buying drugs. Instead of selling drugs, you could be selling something else.

CH

DB4 is just that Brotherly Love, it give you that bond, and you can do something. You can make moves as long as you got that, you can do something positive. It’s just something about DB4 that people like, Da Bottom For… People like it, and when someone can ask you, “What is DB4? I want one of them shirts that you got,” that let’s you know your shirt is hot – when someone wants to come to the meeting because someone wants one of these shirts.

People see this they want this they want to join. Sometimes people say, “Naw I don’t want to go to that.” There’s one friend I keep trying to pull to the meeting and he’s like, “I’m not going to that meeting.”

I’m like, “Listen dawg, you’re just sitting on the corner smoking. It’s not at all like how you think it is, like a parent teacher meeting,” something he thinks he’s used to going to. But he wants one of these shirts. I’m like, “You got to come to the meeting like everybody else.”

I am thankful for every youth that’s in here, that’s power right there. We all got voices and we all could make moves. We could be doing anything else. We could all be out in the streets caring about ourselves or where we going to stay the next day. We could be making our money. We could be doing all that stuff, yet we chose to come together as one and make things happen.

So I think DB4 is a strong bond that’s coming that’s about to rise up. Something about DB4 is an outreach to our community, and it’s an outreach to a lot of things though. DB4 is the truth.

(Laughter)

DL

DB4 is helping us as we are creating our community, working with Drexel getting the kids out of the streets and stuff. I wanted to participate so I could get out the streets too, along with the kids.

I actually was in the street hanging with other people, they was fighting and I got caught up in that and locked up, so now I got probation. So I’m here to not be in stuff like that. I had 30 hours of community service and I actually completed 36 hours, and I want to get some more hours to make it seem good on my probation and stuff. They respect this. The school I signed up for, they like it.

I can go on, want me to get religious with it?

(Laughter)

I am happy that DB4 is bringing more sports into the community, instead of just basketball and football, because some kids are not good at sports like basketball. We got squash and other sports.

VC

Hearing everyone else’s stories, it was touching. It’s nice to know that everyone is on the same page.

DG

Someone said to me: only the good kids in Mantua are involved in DB4, like there is something wrong with making good choices.

For the most part, all of you have a connection in that you have made good choices and you have learned from the experiences that you have witnessed yourself and have touched your lives.

I wanted to know what you thought about that comment, that only the good kids are part of DB4.

QU

I don’t think that’s true at all. First of all, anybody is welcome, it’s just that coming in to this, we have all had our problems and probably been arrested. I personally came here because there is an opportunity to change. Anybody can change. So if somebody comes here who have been arrested who are having some troubles, they can come here to change. I think a lot of young people, and not just young people older people too – anybody needs that. So we’re not just here because it’s a whole bunch of good kids. I don’t think that’s true.

TT

I think that is just an off-target stereotype. I bet people are surprised to see me here, I did a lot of dirt out here to a lot of people. I am just coming home. This is my community, just like it’s everybody else’s community. People who are not from this community can’t come here and organize. It’s up to us to make a change.

DB4 group offers Mantua youth opportunities for growth, change

October 6, 2012

Last summer, Dante Lambert could not find anything to do. He was 16, out of school, and couldn’t find a job. There weren’t any places he could just go and hang out. Tensions were running high in the neighborhood, and he worried for his safety. Lambert said, “I actually was in the street hanging with other people who were fighting, and I got caught up in that.” The police intervened in one of the fights and Lambert ended up in jail. Now he is on probation.

This summer was different, for Lambert and 200 other youth in Mantua. Da Bottom For…, also known as DB4, brought together young people from the area to be proactive about making things better for the children living in Mantua, a neighborhood in West Philadelphia that is also known to some residents as “The Bottom.”

“We are young people from the neighborhood,” DB4 members explained in a group interview. “We are coming up with different activities and programs for us to be involved, so the younger kids can see us being the example and inspiration.”

Drexel University and Custom ED learned about DB4’s efforts in Mantua, a community that borders Drexel’s campus. They approached DB4’s membership for advice and support in implementing the Mantua In Action youth summer sports program. Through the program, some 178 middle school students were able to participate in various sports activities for 10-25 hours per week.

“I wanted to participate so I could get out of the streets, too, along with the kids,” said Lambert, who volunteered to help implement the program and was able to satisfy his community service requirement for probation. “I had 30 hours of community service and I actually completed 36 hours, and I want to get some more hours,” he explained.

In this way, young people like Lambert were given an opportunity to do something positive for their community, regardless of their role in the program. And their contributions to Mantua In Action were significant. Youth members of DB4 helped create the “Mantua In Action” branding of the program, completed extensive community outreach to get youngsters (and parents!) involved, and connected young adults with a paid career development opportunity as junior coaches.

“We were a little worried at first, but we did a lot of street outreach, going door-to-door for about two weeks,” said DB4 organizer Vinte Clemons. “In the end, we got more kids than we needed.”

In addition, some 17 young adults received professional training in sports education and a basic coaching certificate from Drexel’s Sport Management Program in the junior coaches program. Clemons said, “That gave teenagers a chance to be off the streets, as well as keeping them out of trouble.”

Appropriately, DB4 is proud of their contribution and the results. At the same time, they have bigger goals for improving the neighborhood and getting more of the community involved. “The idea [of Mantua In Action] originally was to make the community more proactive, not just in the sense of sports, but just by being involved,” said Clemons. “So by the parents even getting their kids to come, that’s reaching a goal.”

  

DB4’s organizing has been supported by the We Are Mantua! Choice neighborhoods initiative with resources from a Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) CHOICE planning grant and Philadelphia LISC’s Sustainable Communities Initiative in West Philadelphia (SCI-West).

The group meets weekly and is open to participation from any young person in Mantua. At weekly meetings, the group enjoys communal meals and basketball, which helps to build community among the group and provide folks a place to have fun and be active after school. The young adults see this kind of regular programming as essential for the younger kids in the neighborhood. “If I had had somewhere to go play ball, with a structure, I probably wouldn’t have done a lot of the bad things I was doing,” one member reflected.

Other efforts led by these young leaders include regular HIV/AIDS screenings and prevention education. Some 40 youth were tested among a community that is at high risk for HIV, yet often unfamiliar with testing and HIV prevention.

In September, the group hosted a “Community Cookout” focusing on voter registration and violence prevention. They also went door-to-door informing residents about the Pennsylvania Voter ID law (before a judge finally issued an injunction this week, allowing voters to head to the polls without ID). And over the past 8 months, DB4’s membership has helped We Are Mantua! inform and engage residents around the neighborhood transformation planning effort by going door-to-door.

The power of the program is moving beyond the boundaries of DB4’s weekly meetings and special activities. DB4 has earned the respect of people of all ages, people on all sides of the escalating division and conflict in the neighborhood. “No matter what you got going on outside of here, when you have a DB4 shirt, all that other stuff shuts down,” Vinte described.

Though DB4 is advocating for good choices and positive neighborhood change, its membership is made up of all kinds of young people, including those who have a checkered past. Many of them have been arrested. Many have done things they are not proud of. All of them have lost someone close to them to violence. “I have been locked up a bunch of times. I’ve done my dirt in the streets,” one member explained, “but the whole time I had a heart for trying to make stuff better.”

There is certainly positive momentum around community safety in Mantua. We Are Mantua! was recently named a recipient of a Department of Justice Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program award. As DB4 members understand first-hand the dynamics that have led to increased crime and violence in Mantua, they will be valuable stakeholders to ensure the program’s success.

DB4’s experience of the lived realities in the community means they can talk about community change and it not sound phony. To these young people, the change is personal and worth working for. “I personally came here because there is an opportunity to change,” Quintessa explained. “Anybody can change. Anybody needs that.”

> Find and Like DB4 on Facebook. Interested parties can contact Vinte Clemons at dabottom4@gmail.com.

> Read more about Mantua In Action or the Junior Coaches Program.

DOJ Taps LISC to help drive down crime and drive up confidence in West Philadelphia and other communities across the nation

October 4, 2012

The U.S. Department of Justice is tapping the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to help attack crime hotspots in 15 cities nationwide, including Philadelphia, as part of a sweeping effort to improve the quality of life in troubled communities.

LISC was awarded $1 million to guide the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program (BCJI), bringing law enforcement, civic and economic leaders to the table with the neighbors themselves with the goal of making streets safe so business can grow.

“We are pleased to have the opportunity to work with Mount Vernon Manor and residents of Mantua to make their neighborhood safer,” said Andrew Frishkoff, executive director of LISC’s Philadelphia office, which has invested more than $300 million over 30 years to improve the quality of life in the city’s neighborhoods.

“In order to prosper, people need to feel safe from crime and blight.  We tackle crime as part of a comprehensive approach that helps residents define what they want their community to be and then taps neighborhood and institutional resources to make it happen.”

Mantua residents and stakeholders created a transformation plan earlier this year.

In West Philadelphia, Mount Vernon Manor was awarded $599,982.00 to implement community safety priority strategies identified during the We Are Mantua! Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Initiative revitalization plan. Mantua residents and stakeholders developed the plan through a series of community meetings during the first half of 2012.

The We Are Mantua! BCJI is a partnership that includes Mt. Vernon Manor, U.S. Attorney’s Office of Eastern Pennsylvania, Mantua Community Improvement Corporation, The Philadelphia Police Department, Drexel University, The HUB Coalition, Mantua faith-based institutions, and residents.

Philadelphia LISC is supporting We Are Mantua’s efforts as an active participant in both planning and implementation. For example, LISC helped Mantua residents create a civic association for the neighborhood. Going forward, LISC will help the We Are Mantua! Byrne Innovation Collaborative develop and implement a Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) approach to reducing crime in Mantua, drawing on expertise both locally and nationally in providing CPTED training and helping communities implement comprehensive crime reduction strategies that work. Finally, LISC will also provide support in the areas of program development, organizational development, financing, and funding to help ensure the sustainability of this project.

Mantua residents are beginning to implement the changes in their neighborhood.

“This partnership between HUD, LISC, and the Mantua community will be successful because the residents of Mantua are ultimately the ones driving neighborhood change,” said Frishkoff. Residents and stakeholders involved in We Are Mantua!, in the Mantua Civic Association, and in this Byrne Innovation Initiative know the problems and where these problems come from, he explained. And they are being creative and proactive about creating lasting solutions so rampant crime becomes a distant memory for Mantua.

“People cannot live well—they can’t prosper—if their neighborhoods are dangerous and crumbling,” said Julia Ryan, director of LISC’s Community Safety Initiative, a nearly 20-year effort to connect improvements in safety to the overall health of neighborhoods.

“We have to tackle it as part of a comprehensive program that focuses on helping residents define what they want their community to be and then tap the neighborhood and institutional resources to make it happen.”

LISC’s grant was part of $11 million in BCJI funds awarded to help lift up cities from Chula Vista, Ca., to Buffalo, N.Y.—in part by making their streets safer. As the national technical assistance provider, LISC’s role is to help local neighborhoods across the country implement the strategy.  The impact the grants can have on everyday life in troubled areas stands to be substantial, Ryan said.

“Many people surrounded by crime and violence live with a kind of PTSD,” she explained.  “Persistent crime breeds relentless fear.  It cripples local businesses and schools.  It threatens homes and jobs, and compromises people’s health everyday. We can’t ‘arrest’ our way out of this.”

LISC will draw on best practice Crime Prevention models from communities across the country, such as University City District’s Safety Ambassador program.

LISC’s approach brings community, business and development leaders together with local law enforcement to think and act strategically about crime, Ryan said. The LISC model has been endorsed by more than 30 police chiefs for its success in making more effective and efficient use of law enforcement resources.

“These partners work on safe housing and youth programs. They integrate programs on storefront revitalization and park clean-ups. They consider larger issues of quality of life,” Ryan said. “Taken together, these efforts drive down crime and drive up local confidence so that private investment returns to troubled places.”

The BCJI Program is a part of the Obama Administration’s larger Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, which brings together the departments of Education, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Health and Human Services, and Treasury to align federal programs focused on neighborhood revitalization and to implement pilot programs between agencies.

As part of its work, LISC will explore with the Justice Department ways to make sure local and federal efforts stay on the same page—so that on-the-ground strategies comport with larger federal goals.

The program will build partnerships between local law enforcement and communities.

The new BCJI grant program will fund collaborative initiatives through the following: Institute for Public Strategies, Chula Vista, Calif.; City of Lowell, Mass.; City of Baltimore, Md.; Detroit Crime Commission, City of Detroit, Mich.; City of Omaha, Neb.; Center for Court Innovation, New York, N.Y.; Westminster Foundation, NY, Buffalo, N.Y.; East End Community Services Corp., Dayton, Ohio; Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office, Portland, Ore.; Mt. Vernon Manor, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.; City of Austin, Texas; Housing Authority of San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas; City of Seattle, Wash.; City of Milwaukee, Wis.; and City of Charleston, West Va.

LISC operates local programs in Milwaukee, Detroit, Buffalo, Seattle and New York City, as well as in San Diego and Boston, near other Byrne grantees.

Information about the Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation Program is available at www.bja.gov/. For more about the Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative, go to www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/nri_description.pdf.

About LISC
LISC combines corporate, government and philanthropic resources to help nonprofit community development corporations revitalize distressed neighborhoods. Since 1980, LISC has raised $12 billion to build or rehab 289,000 affordable homes and develop 46 million square feet of retail, community and educational space nationwide. Since 1994, LISC support has leveraged nearly $40 billion in total development activity. For more information, visit www.lisc.org.

About LISC Community Safety Initiative
LISC’s Community Safety Initiative (CSI) helps local police and community partners achieve marked improvements in safety, economic vitality, and neighborhood health.  CSI has spurred double-digit reductions in crime in neighborhoods across the country, paving the way for more than $265 million in real estate development in neighborhoods where crime previously deterred investment.  For more, visit www.lisc.org/csi.

Green Block Build offers homeowners a one-stop shop to a better quality of life and a sustainable future

October 3, 2012

Ever since hurricane Irene swept through Philadelphia, Betty Ferguson has had problems with her roof. It became so bad that six raccoons made her attic their new home. Investing in an expensive extermination service didn’t help, and her disability prevented her from attempting to evict the critters herself. It became hard to breathe, she said.

She wasn’t alone. Her neighbors on North Holly Street in West Philadelphia also faced new damages to their houses. The expensive repairs were daunting. “We fell short,” Ferguson explained. “A lot of us are retired, low-income, or on fixed-incomes.”

Bettye Ferguson is the leader of the Holly Street Garden Association that helped organize residents and volunteers for the event.

For many, the damage wasn’t severe enough to qualify for support from FEMA, but as time went on, residents saw the damages get worse and their quality of life diminish. Delores Fuggs, who had a tree fall on the back of her house, said “FEMA did help, but they could not do it all.”

Ferguson was fortunate enough to meet staff from Rebuilding Together and The Partnership CDC at a community meeting. The Green Block Build program, it turned out, was a perfect match for Ferguson’s block. The Green Block Build program is a collaborative effort of partners headed by SCI-West and funded by LISC. The program brings emergency home repair, energy efficiency upgrades, and a whole suite of services and information to help homeowners stay in their homes and revitalize their blocks.

As part of the program, volunteers worked on 14 homes along 800 North Holly Street over the past month. The process culminated in a day-long block build, party, and neighborhood resource fair this past Saturday, September 29th.

Energy efficiency upgrades were included, such as wrapping hot water heater tanks with insulation.

Ferguson received a new handicapped-accessible bathroom, including a new walk-in shower and grab bars. Plus, her new cool roof means her home is drier, the raccoon family is gone for good, and her utility bills will drop during hot summer months. She says her quality of life has already been improved. But more importantly, she is happy the other residents on her block are also receiving help at the same time. “A lot of times, doing things only partway, you end up having to go back and do it again,” Ferguson said. “This way, everything is done at the same time.”

Without this program, I would have been living like a homeless person in my own home.

Across the street from Ferguson’s home, the tree that took out the back of Fuggs’ house had made her home almost unlivable. “The whole back of my house was open,” she said. “Without this program, I would have been living like a homeless person in my own home.”

The Green Block Build program aims to help homeowners with the repairs they urgently need, as well as connect them with support to help them plan for a more sustainable future. “The Green Block Build program looks to bring sustainable change from house to house, block to block,” said Jamie Gauthier, Program Officer for LISC. “With a little support from our partners and volunteers, West Philadelphia residents are really driving the changes on their blocks.”

Replacing this kitchen floor will allow the homeowner to stay in their home. This is good for Holly Street and for West Philadelphia, too.

Many homes on North Holly Street have been part of these families’ lives for over 60 years, with four and five generations living in some households. The community also has a proud legacy of volunteerism, of supporting each other and the neighborhood. “This means a lot for the old homeowners who invested in this area,” Ferguson explained. “I’m proud to live here. It’s worth saving.”

The homes themselves are over 100 years old. With older heating technology and building methods, the repairs and upgrades are crucial to make it affordable for residents to stay put. Ferguson said, “We won’t go into debt paying for it like we normally would have to.”

West Philadelphia residents are really driving the changes on their blocks.

Residents along North Holly Street were connected to financial coaching and counseling services, information about maintaining a healthy home, and ways to save energy and drive down utility bills. Fuggs, who was raised on the block, was glad to hear about Tangled Title assistance, one of the services offered by the Green Block Build collaborative to help homeowners keep their homes. A title becomes “tangled” when a homeowner inherits his or her home from family members, but the paperwork necessary to convey new ownership is somehow incomplete. “If you don’t know where to get the resource from, you’re at a loss,” Fuggs said. “So it’s good to have the resources out here, and I picked up a couple of resources that I know I can benefit from.”

The Green Block Build brought resources to residents living on or near North Holly Street.

Additionally, with the resource fair, any nearby resident can come learn about resources and services available to them. Ferguson said, “It’s like a one-stop shop.”

In 2012, the Green Block Build Collaborative hosted two block builds featuring intensive home repairs, as well as two block parties offering neighborhood resources and services. SCI-West and its program partners hope to attract funding and support to expand and replicate the program further, helping even more blocks and homeowners across West Philadelphia.

>Read more about SCI-West at www.SCIPhilly.org

>Read more about LISC at www.lisc.org

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Article and photos by David Ferris.