ELKHART — Jason Moreno wants to improve Elkhart one block at a time.
The first step in that goal will happen Saturday, June 8, when Moreno, with the help of the city of Elkhart and a throng of volunteers, gears up for a community project being billed as Rock The Block.
Moreno is a community organizer with the housing agency LaCasa Inc., and wants to see Elkhart embrace home and neighborhood enhancement efforts the same way Goshen has through LaCasa’s Help-a-House, a program that’s been on going for 23 years.
Elkhart doesn’t have anything like that, and Saturday’s Rock The Block is an attempt to see how much the city and LaCasa can accomplish together and whether something similar can be sustained, Moreno said.
“We’re looking to make inroads and create relationships between the city of Elkhart and LaCasa,” Moreno told city council members Monday night.
Saturday’s event focuses on the residential block bounded by Prairie Street and West Indiana, Ashland and West Garfield avenues. It includes about two dozen homes, and nearly all of the residents expressed an interest in the program, Moreno said.
The block was chosen by the city based on the number of visible code violations.
Moreno announced plans to neighbors and then surveyed each household and asked what kind of help they needed.
As a result, some of the projects will be customized from house to house, but one of the biggest efforts will be the removal of vegetative overgrowth in the alleys and around the homes. Brush, weeds and trees will be collected and left for the city to remove.
Organizers also hope to have the alleys graded and sidewalks edged.
Moreno said he’s impressed with the response from the city and the neighbors.
“They were excited to hear about somebody coming to their block to help them to invest in them,” he said. “They were more than willing to participate once the initiative was made.”
Moreno hopes to have about 60 volunteers who will join neighbors for the work from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
An empty lot at the corner of Indiana and Prairie will serve as a staging area.
Overflow parking will be available at the Roosevelt center to the east.
Volunteers are encouraged to bring edgers, bow saws, power washers, water hoses and electrical extension cords.
In addition to plenty of work, the event will have a lighter side.
The fire department will distribute free smoke alarms for residents and coloring books for children.
Plenty of food and music will be provided.
The Historic Roosevelt Tenants Association has endorsed the event, and an effort is under way to re-energize the local neighborhood association.
Moreno and Mayor Dick Moore said they hope Saturday’s effort begins a tradition.
“This is exactly the type of endeavor that makes Elkhart unique. A community association-driven project to showcase improvement, revitalization and area pride in neighbors helping neighbors in this historic Roosevelt district,” Moore said.
Organizers say they hope “neighbors working with neighbors” will help build a sense of community and awareness and lead to improved efforts in crime prevention, said Denny Correll, who serves as the neighborhood coordinator for the city.
The city is providing numerous resources, Correll said.
“It’s a small area
but one block can lead to two blocks, can lead to five blocks and lead to the whole city,” Correll said.
NeighborWorks America, an organization that provides grant money, gave LaCasa $2,000 to help pay for equipment such as power washers, edgers and lawn mowers. The equipment will be used for future events as well, Moreno said.
Local companies supporting the event include Martin’s Super Markets, Borden Waste-Away and the law firm Stutsman & Mulvaney. Prairie Street Mennonite Church is donating chairs, Elkhart Community Schools is providing tables.
Members of New Birth Pentecostal Ministries will be cooking and providing brats.