It takes more than just home repairs and cleanup events to revitalize a neighborhood in need of some drastic changes.
Dustin Tommey, community development director of local nonprofit Impact Cleveland, said a lot of what really needs to be addressed when focusing on improving an area has to do with social and spiritual matters.
During a recent meeting of the Cleveland Interagency Council, Tommey shared what his organization has been doing to improve part of Cleveland, and what the future may hold for other areas.
Impact Cleveland is an organization working to improve a neighborhood by spearheading efforts to get residents involved in making improvements where they live, he explained. Meeting with residents and partnering with other nonprofits, the groups decide what needs to be done, then work toward those goals.
“What we’re trying to do is ... empower residents to tackle those issues,” Tommey said.
Still an organization which is pretty new to Cleveland, he described Impact Cleveland as being in the middle of a “planning year” allowing staff to prioritize the community’s needs and look at ways it can expand in the future.
For now, it has focused its attention on one neighborhood, one that includes the Blythe Avenue Family Support Center, in which its offices are located. The neighborhood of focus is bounded on four sides by King Edward and Wilson avenues and 9th and 18th streets.
There are five different areas Impact Cleveland plans to address with any neighborhood it helps: physical needs like housing, social issues, neighborhood safety, empowering residents and workforce development. Tommey said all five are vital to helping a neighborhood runs successfully.
So far, the organization has begun to look for ways to help by having residents take a survey about what they believe to be the biggest issues, and holding a community meeting earlier this month. There were survey responses from about 160 different households, and Tommey said the meeting was also pretty well attended.
At the meeting, residents were asked to identify which areas from Impact Cleveland’s five areas of focus they wanted to help improve upon, and to also tell of any other areas they wanted to see addressed. Because of other meeting comments, the organization and the residents will also look at ways they can lessen the impacts of traffic and speeding, drug activity, property-related problems and trash, litter and dumping.
Impact Cleveland staffers plan to look for other local nonprofits to help remedy the issues residents noticed in their own neighborhood. For example, Impact Cleveland and the residents already plan to work with Legal Aid of East Tennessee to see what they might be able to do to spur action.
A lot of what his organization plans to do relies on partnering with others in the community, and Tommey encouraged representatives from other organizations to look at ways they could help the neighborhood.
While it might be a different way of doing things, he said he felt local organizations could make “more of a difference” in a shorter amount of time by working together to help one neighborhood at a time.
“It’s just a different model,” he said.
While Impact Cleveland plans to “replicate” the concept of helping one neighborhood at a time elsewhere, this kind of “investment” could last as long as three or five years.
Tommey stressed the Blythe Avenue area became the first to receive the organization’s help because it does need improvement in all the aforementioned areas. Houses are in disrepair because homeowners or landlords do not or cannot maintain them. Problems like poverty are invasive, with “an abundance of” households living on incomes of less than $15,000 a year. Speeding, drug use and excessive littering all happen.
After observing these issues, Impact Cleveland has begun to identify ways the neighborhood can improve.
Safety might be improved by the presence of a Neighborhood Watch group, Tommey said. Events like a recent Easter egg hunt can help families see the need for “redeeming public spaces” and reducing littering.
He said it just requires a lot of work from the residents and local organizations all working together.