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Citizens joining with elected leaders to serve their communities and address their concerns is what animates our democracy. That’s why Cities of Service supports city leaders to find people like Mrs. Mitchell of Birmingham, Alabama who have a vision for improving their community and take action together.
Mrs. Mitchell remembers when her son attended Wilson Elementary School in the 1970s, just down the street from her home. But it was closed down in 2010, and she watched as the school, once filled with neighborhood children, became a vandalized and overgrown eyesore.
Run-down, litter-strewn spaces can depress housing values, contribute to mental health problems, and encourage crime and other negative behaviors, but a different future became possible for Wilson Elementary when the City of Birmingham received a Love Your Block grant from Cities of Service.
With as many as 88,000 Birmingham residents lacking local access to fresh fruit and vegetables, Mayor Randall Woodfin used Love Your Block to create and maintain community gardens across the city. Working closely with our team, Birmingham city staff was soon reaching out into the community, connecting with resident groups, and helping them to plan projects and apply for support.
Mrs. Mitchell and her neighbors submitted their idea to repurpose the old Wilson Elementary site to the Mayor’s Office of Civic Engagement and won a $3,000 Love Your Block award.
In the spring of 2018, Mrs. Mitchell, her neighbors, and the city worked together to turn the abandoned schoolyard into the Bush Hills Community Garden, a thriving community space. The city prepared the property, a neighbor used his own tractor to till the field, and local businesses donated their time and materials to build raised beds.
The Love your Block mini-grant provided for tools, supplies, seeds, and even fruit trees.The community planted turnip greens, sweet potatoes, peppermint, and a bounty of other vegetables and herbs, along with a 30-tree orchard.
Mrs. Mitchell and her neighbors now regularly enjoy fresh produce that is grown in their community, right where their own children grew up.
Mrs. Mitchell is just one of more than 5,300 volunteers who participated in the most recent Cities of Service Love Your Block program. And her block is just one of 550 revitalized across six cities from 2015-2018 through the shared efforts of citizens and city leaders.
This is how we keep democracy alive at the local level. Person by person, block by block, city by city, we bring citizens and government partners together with shared purpose to address local issues. And by working together toward a solution, they are building relationships and rebuilding trust.
And there is so much more work to do! Across the country, there are city leaders and citizens who want to improve their community. Will you donate today and help Cities of Service bring them together to make a better future?
Myung J. Lee
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