Due to factors including the loss of industrial jobs and natural disasters, the population of Birmingham has fallen by nearly 30% since 1960. This left many neighborhoods with abandoned and blighted properties. Additionally, most neighborhoods in the city do not have sufficient access to healthy food.
Through the Cities of Service Love Your Block program, the city awarded community groups with small grants to address blight with neighborhood cleanups and other activities. With help from Cities of Service, the city developed a service plan and focused Love Your Block projects on challenges that were a priority for the mayor, such as improving healthy food access.
With funds and technical assistance from Cities of Service and the added capacity of two AmeriCorps VISTA members, the city was able to award more than 40 mini-grants to community organizations for a variety of neighborhood projects.
Cities of Service Love Your Block AmeriCorps VISTA members helped the city create relationships with leaders of neighborhood associations and improve the city’s online outreach, leading to increased participation in the program.
- More than 700 volunteers participated in Love Your Block, cleaning up a dozen parks and over 100 vacant lots in 33 neighborhoods.
- Residents removed 4,700 pounds of litter from vacant lots and public spaces.
- Five neighborhood groups were awarded grants to create community gardens in areas without access to healthy food.
- The Bush Hills Neighborhood Association turned a closed elementary school into a thriving community space and garden, with a variety of vegetables and 30 fruit trees.
- Birmingham successfully raised additional public and private sector resources to support their Love Your Block projects.
- Home Depot provided both in-kind support for the projects, such as tools and supplies, and $30,000 in funding to the city, with additional funds going to individual neighborhoods. Alabama Power also donated approximately $15,000 per year to support neighborhood revitalization efforts.
Keys to Success
With coaching from Cities of Service, the city made some mid-grant adjustments, including focusing mini-grant projects on challenges that were a priority for the city, to ensure their success.
- After the city initially gave a large number of grants to tackle a wide range of problems, Cities of Service advised the city to focus mini-grant projects on cleaning up blighted properties. This made it easier for the city to manage and support the projects and improved their effectiveness.
- When a new mayor was elected, he worked with former Cities of Service Love Your Block AmeriCorps VISTA members who had since been hired by the city, Ryan Jackson and Tyler Pearson, to build on the success of Love Your Block to increase access to healthy foods, leading to successful community gardens.
“If the government has the resources, then we should stand alongside our citizens and continue to make progress. Seeing us transform the area or revitalize an area meant the world to me. I grew up in some of these areas. Allow me to give back—that’s what Love Your Block did for me.”
Ryan Jackson, former Cities of Service Love Your Block AmeriCorps VISTA member and current Executive Assistant to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin