Foundations of East Chicago awarded NI a $90,228 grant as the lead organization for its We’re Neighbors!/¡Somos Vecinos! program, which focused on New Addition, Northside, Southside and Roxana neighborhoods and multiple blocks of Grand and Hemlock Avenues in Indiana Harbor.
• Develop organized, cohesive, resident-led groups that will eventually transform into entities that will manage neighborhood public spaces, responding to East Chicago citizens’ request for increased public safety
• Address neighborhood pride and homeowners’ investment in the neighborhood
• Feature upbeat events for residents’ benefit and attract non-residents to participate.
NI partnered with 10 other organizations to operate this Healthy Neighborhood initiative. The groups directly involved were: Catholic Family Services, ECPD, Calumet College of St. Joseph, East Chicago Emergency Management Department, Meals on Wheels and UNO. Other groups offered to donate space and act as information distribution points: Healthy East Chicago, East Chicago Public Library and the Puerto Rican Parade and Cultural Organization of NW Indiana.
As lead organization, NI staff brought 50 years of combined expertise in neighborhood development to operate this initiative. NI identified leaders within each of the five designated neighborhoods and is organizing block clubs, providing leadership training to residents, creating a neighborhood contact system and coordinating collaborators’ efforts.
The program objective is to make blocks in these neighborhoods a billboard statement to other East Chicago residents and businesses for positive neighborhood change.
Beginning May, 2009, East Chicago residents started to hear “Neighborhoods Inc.” more often. NI quickly presented neighborhood-building programs to the target areas. New Addition welcomed NI back after having already participated in its productive programs since 2007. Residents greeted NI staff at a meeting held at the Bessie Owens Center on June 11.
In Northside and Southside NI encouraged residents to enter the Best House on the Block Contest®. Two neighborhood meetings were held on June 23 and 30 at the Pastrick Library to allow residents to voice concerns and learn more about NI’s plans.
NI reached out to community leaders in Roxana and Indiana Harbor. On August 14, 2nd District Councilman Lenny Franciski came to NI’s office to learn about its programs and has provided invaluable support since then.
In the Harbor, a multi-family garage sale was held on Hemlock and Grand Avenues and in the New Addition neighborhood on August 29. Twenty-two households and two churches participated, which brought bargain-finders from as far as LaPorte and Cedar Lake.
In September NI held its 8th annual Dog Walk in Roxana. Canine-lovers came from as far away as Portage to participate in this event which included a blessing of the animals, a K-9 demonstration by the ECPD and various contests and vendor booths.
In October, the Best House on the Block Contest® in Northside and Southside ended. Participants added over $40,000 of value and curb appeal to their properties. At least 30 other East Chicago residents made improvements as a direct result of this contest.
Also in October, NI signed up 17 participants for the Fall Decorating Contest in Grand/Hemlock and Roxana. The following month 19 Northside and Southside residents celebrated the spirit of the season by participating in the Holiday Decorating Contest.
A frequent remark heard from participants was how NI’s positive community activities help neighbors come out of their houses and meet and bond. Once neighbors know each other, they look out for one another and their neighborhood is safer. Neighbors know who belongs in their neighborhood and who doesn’t.
The Public Safety Institute (PSI) of Calumet College of St. Joseph collected data from East Chicago’s Police and Emergency Management Departments regarding the number of 911 calls in each of the 5 areas. PSI ranked the calls according to their level of severity and analyzed the data in relation to activities and programs offered by NI and its collaborators in these areas.
Catholic Family Services (CFS) facilitated a weekly ladies group for mature women, ages 55+, to provide an environment to socialize and share personal and local concerns. Meetings inspired a heightened connectedness and gave participants an opportunity for mutual support when dealing with everyday life. CFS held over 40 meetings since May 2009 with approximately 20 faithful attendees and 5 participants who attend less frequently.
Meals On Wheels provided collaborator information on events and programs to 30 home-bound residents within the 5 target neighborhoods.
United Neighborhood Organizations’ (UNO) role provided East Chicago residents the ability to anonymously report suspicious activities without fear of retribution. UNO’s family specialist also accepted referrals from residents needing assistance regarding disruptive neighbors. More residents visited the center and participated in other UNO programs and events.
One of NI’s goals is to dispel the myth that East Chicago is overrun with crime and gangs. NI held events to people from outside of East Chicago to see first-hand that it is a good city to live in. Many comments were heard during the Garage Sale and the Dog Walk about how nice the neighborhoods looked and friendly residents were.
“PLEASE, HAVE A SEAT!” 2010-2011
NI received a grant of $34,425 from Foundations of East Chicago to implement this pilot project with boundaries of Columbus Drive, White Oak Ave., Carroll St. and Indianapolis Blvd. and partnered with St. Stanislaus School and Roxana Civic Club to promote this project.
The program consisted of installing 22 small, informal gathering places that include an attractive, concrete pad, ornamental bench and planter in selected homeowners’ front yards adjacent to the sidewalk. This provided neighbors a place to meet and socialize in a non-intrusive setting while forming friendships and strengthening community bonds. The benches have also been used as a place for dog walkers, parents with strollers and other walkers to sit and rest.
The goals of this project are:
1) Foster a stronger sense of community cohesiveness,
2) Increase public safety, and
3) Beautify neighborhoods.
NI researched the idea of creating informal gathering places on private property for public use. An August 3, 2009 Chicago Tribune article by Barbara Brotman titled, “Front Patio Makes Great Hook if Fishing for People” detailed how Steve and Carrie Bankes of Oak Park, IL put a small patio in their front yard. This patio allowed them to watch their children play in the front and encourage neighbors to sit and chat.
Residents reacted positively. Each bench recipient completed a monthly survey to track who and how many people use their bench or if there is abuse or vandalism. To date there have been NO negative reports. Lenny Franciski, 2nd district councilman, said, “These sitting areas will encourage neighbors to know who lives on their blocks and make them better able to identify who doesn’t belong.”
NI held an unveiling ceremony on Homerlee Avenue for its newly installed benches at the home of José and Ascensión Tristan on August 3, 2010. Forty-three persons attended.
The bench project has received extensive positive publicity in eight articles in the Chicago Tribune, Post-Tribune, The Times of Northwest Indiana and Highland’s Gazebo Express. Channel 56 – WYIN covered the 2010 unveiling as well.
Due to the success of the 2010 project, Legacy Foundation, through grants provided by the Lake County Community Fund and John S. and James L. Knight Fund, awarded $21,500 to introduce the project in Hammond, Highland and Gary and to expand the program in East Chicago. NI also received $20,675 from Foundations of East Chicago, $10,000 from NIPSCO, $4,000 through the Campaign for Human Development via the Diocese of Gary and $5,000 from Roland Parrish, a Hammond High School graduate who now lives near Dallas, TX.
There are now 38 microparks in East Chicago. This has provided neighbors and passersby a place to meet and socialize and, according to bench owners, has enhanced public safety.
“WE’RE NEIGHBORS!/¡SOMOS VECINOS!” PHASE II – 2010
Foundations of East Chicago renewed NI’s We’re Neighbors! / ¡Somos Vecinos! Phase II with a $75,300 grant in May, 2010 to target four areas: Northside, Southside, New Addition and multiple blocks of Grand and Hemlock Avenues in Indiana Harbor. NI contacted businesses throughout East Chicago to solicit donations and in-kind gifts for this program and partnered with UNO, Catholic Family Services, ECPD, Meals on Wheels, Healthy East Chicago, East Chicago Public Library, ECEMD and the Puerto Rican Parade and Cultural Organization of NW Indiana. Volunteers from Reformers Unanimous were recruited to make Operation Restoration 2010 a success in New Addition and Grand-Hemlock.
NI held 21 neighborhood meetings with 243 persons in attendance including 9 ice cream socials in residents’ front yards to inform residents of NI’s objectives. Neighbors were encouraged to candidly report on the “well-being” of their block and voice any concerns. Leaders were identified and instructed on building and maintaining block clubs. The Window Sign Contest held from August to November was an amazing success, reaching nearly 2,000 E.C. homes. Participants went throughout the city asking neighbors to place a “neighborhood watch” type sign in the front window to warn potential wrongdoers that residents call police if they see suspicious activity. A post-contest survey indicated 92% of sign owners said they felt their neighbors were watching out for them and they felt safer.
NI held the Fall Spruce-Up Contest from August to October to promote neighborhood beautification. Over $8,000 of value was added to the contest properties.
NI’s Snow Art (December 2010 – February 2011) and Multi-Family Garage Sale, held on May 14, 2011, were fun, family-oriented events that brought neighbors out of their homes to meet each other and attracted non-residents to see what a great and talented community East Chicago is. The Multi-Family Garage Sale had 47 participant households plus the Knights of Columbus Hall, who held their sale indoors. Even with rain and wind, 13 of those households still participated and 168 buyers came. One woman sold all her items to a Cedar Lake woman. NI provided maps to 68 persons at an information tent in American Legion 369’s parking lot. Over 100 people visited the K of C site. Margot Neary of East Chicago’s Southside neighborhood volunteered on this blustery day.
Through neighbor meetings and the Window Sign Contest NI could measure the level of willingness of residents to participate in block clubs and take action when needed. The Fall Decorating Contest and Snow Art Contest brought residents out of their houses and encouraged them to take pride in their homes. The Garage Sale showcased East Chicago neighborhoods and brought residents from all over the Calumet Region. NI explained to all participants, when they signed up, the objectives of the program. Participants were also surveyed after each event.
“WE’RE NEIGHBORS!/¡SOMOS VECINOS!” PHASE III – 2011
After two years of implementing the “We’re Neighbors!/¡Somos Vecinos!” project in East Chicago with quantifiable results, Foundations of East Chicago invested $87,500 in NI to continue improving neighborhoods, this time with increased emphasis on Indiana Harbor. NI collaborated with United Neighborhoods Organization and Catholic Family Services to continue to organize residents into block clubs, provide community development and social events for neighbors to meet and help create a neighborhood contact system consisting of flyers and newsletters.
Funded by Foundations of East Chicago, Northlake Auto and Rhodia, Operation Restoration assisted East Chicago residents in two phases this year.
On November 22 and 29, volunteers from First Baptist Church in Hammond provided labor in the cold and rain to assist elderly/disabled residents remove unwanted items or help with light repairs and yardwork in the Sunnyside and Washington Park areas of Indiana Harbor. Mr. Isaac Johnson, a World War II Navy veteran, couldn’t stop thanking the workers. “I could never have done this myself,” he said. “God bless you for helping me out.” Several tons of debris were removed and some items were donated to a local non-profit. Metal items were taken by a local scrapper to be recycled.
Phase II of Operation Restoration was of critical importance when East Chicago residents found themselves without water on Sunday, December 11, due to a water main break. This crisis continued over two days, leaving nearly 30,000 residents without a basic need. NI staff contacted 195 residents on their customer list to offer them to come to NI’s office and take up to 10 gallons of fresh water.
Quickly NI’s office started bustling with activity. Close to 50 East Chicagoans came and left with over 250 gallons of water. Precinct committeewoman Christine Russell, while in the office to retrieve water for homebound neighbors, also assisted NI by volunteering to make phone calls to residents.
NI organized the largest community garage sale in East Chicago history on Saturday, September 17. Over 500 East Chicago residents of all ages at over 200 locations participated. Bargain-hunters came from all over the Calumet Region. Post-event surveys indicated sellers earned a total of $22,818, averaging $114 per household. Not included in these figures are a participant in Washington Park who sold her car for $7,000 and a church that reported an additional $1,500 in sales. The total approximate revenue exceeded $31,000.
Fall Spruce Up contestants competed for cash rewards up to $500 for making exterior home improvements. Residents painted, planted and decorated. Some even had benches installed from NI’s “Please, Have A Seat!” program to, in its second year of operation, complement their improvements.
For the 2011 Winter Holiday Decorating Contest, participants put their “spirit of the season” to good use by decorating their properties with lights, inflatables and other holiday lawn ornaments, making their block more festive and welcoming.
PREVIOUS YEARS’ PROJECTS
NI conducted Operation Restoration in New Addition for the second consecutive year. Volunteers from BP’s Whiting facility tied Operation Restoration in with United Way’s Day of Caring to provide labor to improve the safety of 5 homes of elderly/disabled homeowners. Approximately $6,000 in improvements enhanced this neighborhood.
NI rolled out its Healthy Neighborhood Loan Program city-wide. Homeowners were eligible to apply for home improvement loans at below market rates and access technical assistance to complete their projects.
NI brought its Best House on the Block Contest® to the New Addition neighborhood. The contest, which encourages homeowners to enhance their home’s curb appeal through exterior home improvement projects, had record results with 10% of New Addition homeowners participating in the project. In most neighborhoods only about 1.5-2% of the households enter the contest. This project added approximately $21,000 in improvements to the neighborhood, thousands of motorists and passersby saw CONTEST ENTRANT signs and residents experienced a great boost in community pride.
In conjunction with the contest, NI conducted Operation Restoration project in New Addition. Through OR five homes of elderly/disabled homeowners were painted by volunteers from First Baptist Church of Hammond on October 18 and 19.
NI’s Healthy Neighborhoods Loan program was unveiled to Roxana residents. Homeowners had access to below market rate home improvement loans and technical assistance.
NI’s Operation Restoration program partially funded the World Changers group to return to East Chicago’s Calumet neighborhood in July to paint and repair roofs for homeowners in need. NI’s funds helped to feed these hard-working volunteers for five days.
In December, NI coordinated its Holiday Decorating Contest for the Prairie Park neighborhood near St. Catherine Hospital. Twenty-two homes entered the contest with four winners placing in first, second and a tie for third. Entrants enjoyed a holiday-themed awards ceremony hosted by St. Catherine Hospital.
NI’s Operation Restoration program brought about 180 volunteers from the World Changers group to Marktown and the Harbor to paint 18 homes. Nearly $17,000 in exterior home improvements were recorded on Prospect St. in Marktown, and over $25,000 of value was added to Grand Blvd. homes.
NI also conducted a Holiday Decorating Contest for the Washington Park area. Twenty-two homes entered the contest sponsored in part by St. Catherine Hospital. On December 21, over 50 entrants and their families enjoyed a festive awards ceremony at the hospital where winners took home $200, $100 and $50 for first through third place, respectively.