There might not be a dollar equivalent to the value of time, labor and material invested by dozens of volunteers who hauled away old tires, painted bathrooms and playground equipment, and cut grass Friday morning at the Family Support Center on Blythe Avenue and in the surrounding neighborhood.
The cleanup was part of the United Way of Bradley County Day of Action, a time for the generous donors and sponsors to serve some of the nonprofit agencies in the neighborhood for two hours, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Dustin Tommey, community development director of Impact Cleveland, an Initiative of the United Way of Bradley County that focuses on raising the living standards in the Blythe Avenue neighborhood said, “The volunteers help out in a huge way in a short amount of time.
Ace Hardware sent 10 people who almost completely renovated two restrooms in the center.
“It’s really amazing they could take the time to do this,” Tommey said. “The generosity that flows from their hearts and their company is really amazing — but it’s not just Ace. It’s dozens of companies (and the City of Cleveland) that support the United Way and organizations that they fund.”
Extending a helping hand is almost as good for the volunteers as it is for their Blythe Avenue neighbors who sometimes feel forgotten.
“Impact Cleveland is trying to revitalize this neighborhood and come alongside those residents who may feel that way and really empower them to see the change they want to see,” Tommey said.
Patricia Vaughn was one of those residents who kept quiet for many years, but with the encouragement of The Refuge and Impact Cleveland, she has found her voice.
Vaughn, 31, has lived on either Blythe Avenue or Chippewa Avenue most of her life and most of the time, she says, the neighborhood is good. But, she continued, every neighborhood has it own particular set of issues.
“If you want a good neighborhood, you’ve got to speak up. You’ve got to get your point across to your elected officials. If they do it, they do it. If they don’t, they don’t, but if they don’t, then don’t elect them the next time,” she said. “I’ve learned to speak out because when you set back and keep your mouth shut, nothing gets done.”
Kelli Kyle is the director of community involvement for The Refuge, a 5-year-old nonprofit agency that serves the community by helping people achieve and maintain sustainability.
“We have many free educational courses here as well as helping people find jobs,” she said. “Some of the jobs are entry level and some are not. We have people who come here with master’s degrees. The job varies depending on the person. Sometimes people with master’s degrees are the hardest to find jobs for because they are over-qualified.”
The Refuge offers financial literacy, resume writing, computer and budgeting classes.
“We have CPR certification and we actually have a couponing class that was requested by the community,” Kyle said. “We work with the families we serve. We don’t do it for them, so once they finish, they can say they did it.”
Tommey said it takes a lot of momentum and leverage to see full-scale neighborhood change.
“We are really just scratching at the surface of what this initiative has the potential to do,” he said.
One of the problems is the low rate of home ownership. The national average is 65 percent. In the Blythe Avenue neighborhood, homeownership is only 39 percent and home ownership in Cleveland is about 55 percent.
“In Cleveland, the percentage is lower than the national average, but in this neighborhood, it’s drastically lower,” Tommey said. “That does play a factor. It’s important that homeowners take a stand together to make improvements in the neighborhood because they are the ones invested with their dollars. But, it is important that landlords do their part, take care of their property and uphold their end of the lease agreements.”
Vaughn said life itself gave her the courage to find her community voice. The high number of rental properties in the neighborhood is only part of the problem. She would like to see bigger police presence around the center in the evening and nighttime hours after the resource center closes.
When asked if the neighborhood is worth saving?
Vaughn said, “Yes, I think it is.”