Sunday, August 29, 2010
I spent my morning Saturday as part of a totally awesome challenge. I work in community development in a small city in the Finger Lakes. The city has its challenges as do most small cities in upstate New York. As part of a new initiative, the city government has developed a new department called the Office of Neighborhood Initiatives of which I am a part. Our mission: To build confidence and pride in Geneva's neighborhoods through collaboration, education, and thoughtful design.
For our first project we challenged neighbors to come together and propose improvements to their houses and yards that when completed as a group would enhance the curb appeal of the street. The greatest challenge to the neighborhood was actually to learn to work together and not about the physical improvements. Paint fades over time but a feeling of neighborliness and good will can last a lifetime.
It has been a “challenge” on the part of the office staff to coordinate these repairs, etc. and to create the appropriate design for each house. Being the “taste police” can be difficult and we have seen some interesting paint color choices. But it has been fun and rewarding watching these three groups of neighbors work together to get their projects completed. I have heard from so many of them that they are happy to have met some really nice neighbors that they would not have met otherwise. Interestingly, people in the city tend to keep to themselves.
The city is also home to a small liberal arts college. Each year the freshmen are required to spend two hours helping out in the community. This practice acquaints them with the city and its various agencies and also acts as an introduction of the students to the residents. This year we requested some student workers to help with our neighborhood projects. I picked up my two groups of students and off we went. I dropped the first group of three exchange students (from Germany) at the home of an elderly couple. Their task was to paint the porch. The second group was charged with planting trees, shrubs and flower boxes.
The interaction between the students and the residents was amazing. The students took instruction well and got a lot of work done. The residents worked alongside
them creating a lasting good impression on the students. The elderly couple was so amazed that young people from another country would help them paint their porch. At the end of the job, the 84 year old man came out with glasses with ice and poured us all a drink. So sweet! A neighbor asked that a photo of the tree planting group be taken with another to be taken in four years when the students are ready to graduate. Several students asked to be called to volunteer on future projects.
My day began as just another day of work but ended up being a totally exhilarating and inspiring experience. I feel fortunate to have been a part of this wonderful project.