Elkhart neighborhood cleanup hosts encore event

Rock The Block's encore presentation did not miss a beat Saturday. Despite a threat of rain and storms, more than 60 volunteers spent time sprucing up a south side neighborhood.
Posted on Oct. 6, 2013 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — The large, two-story brick house at 1313 Eden St., sits empty with a for-sale sign in the window.

Its unique triangular front yard, trimmed with a white fence, comes to a point where Eden and Prairie streets intersect.

And on Saturday, it also served as an intersection where volunteerism collided with a concentrated neighborhood revitalization effort.

For the second time this year, LaCasa Inc. and the city of Elkhart teamed up to clean up a few residential blocks in an event known as Rock the Block on the city’s south side.

From all accounts, the encore presentation went off without a hitch despite a constant threat of rain early Saturday.

For the better part of six hours, volunteers fanned out across a two-block area to provide a little curb appeal to 24 homes and six storefronts in an area bounded by Indiana Avenue and Prairie, Eden and Kinzy streets.

Volunteers received a Rock The Block T-shirt and a meal in exchange for their efforts. Organizers estimate nearly 90 people participated.

The sounds of chain saws and weed eaters could be heard in the distance as a variety of music — as diverse as the volunteers — boomed from nearby speakers.

Eleanor and Alan Kreider were among the numerous volunteers from the Prairie Street Mennonite Church, which sits in the middle of the targeted area. They were shoveling weeds and dirt into a wheelbarrow after edging part of a sidewalk.

Eleanor said she was hoping to not only help clean up the neighborhood, but connect with people she often sees around the church.

“It is especially important for making relationships,” she said about the event.

“People are concerned about safety and I think the best way to be safe is to know your neighbors. ... It breaks down fear,” she said.

On the other side of the yard, Mattie Gonzalez, 17, and two sisters, Maria and Jennica, were shoveling up weeds along the sidewalk. They decided to help after a representative of LaCasa who was canvassing the neighborhood asked if they would participate.

They said it was a chance to get out of the house, but also help the community.

They were working alongside Angie Johnson, who lives in the neighborhood.

“It’s a great opportunity to help out,” Johnson said.

Even 90-year-old Simon Gingerich, the church’s longtime caretaker, offered his assistance. He was pulling weeds along a fence line near a garage.

“I thought I might know what needed to be done,” Gingerich said with a wry smile.

Kesia Woods, a mother of four, brought three of her children to help. She said she loves the chance to get involved.

“This is awesome,” Woods said. “We need to do this more often.”

Saturday’s event included planned improvements to a cluster of storefronts along Indiana Avenue near the Roosevelt center.

Organizers talked with store owners who agreed to have the storefronts repainted.

Instead of an odd mix of colors, the storefronts will be bathed in a butterscotch yellow and trimmed in blue.

A mid-afternoon rain cut short the painting project, but as of noon the new color scheme was starting to emerge.

Tody Johnson, 38, was part of the crew that focused on the stores.

“It’s all about the community,” Johnson said as he applied a thick coat of paint to an exterior wall. “It’s all about giving back.”

Mark Morris, a 38-year old carpenter with LaCasa, said he thinks a consistent color pattern sends a message of commonality.

“If the store owners can come together and make a good decision, maybe the rest of the community can come together a little bit,” Morris said.

Plans for the project began weeks ago when LaCasa’s Jason Moreno, a community organizer, talked with residents to elicit their support and ask what improvements they’d like to see done around their homes.

Except for rain, which interrupted the painting, the event was problem free, Moreno said.

He said he was pleased with the increased level of participation compared to the June 8 event.

“I’m very satisfied to see that it’s resonating in the community — this willingness to do good for others and pay it forward.”

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