When Sandra Smithers moved back to the neighborhood where she was born, it was already starting to decline. But that didn’t scare her away.
“I grew up in Dunleith (Wilmington, DE). I’d seen what it was and could be again,” explains Sandra. “You can just watch something like that happen, or decide it is worth fighting for. I decided to stay and fight.”
The few amenities still left, the park and swimming pool where her own children had grown up playing, had fallen into disrepair. The county, which used to operate the pool, had gotten out of the business and handed it off to other entities to manage that paid little attention to it. Sandra, who lives across from the pool, joined the neighborhood civic association and persuaded the other members to adopt it as a cause. It wasn’t long before she was elected president of the association.
“You can just watch something happen, or decide it is worth fighting for. I decided to stay and fight.”
“Children from other neighborhoods used to come to the pool. It was a highlight of their summer,” recalls Sandra. “Plus, free breakfast and lunch were served for kids who wouldn’t get a good meal otherwise. Our neighborhood has a large percentage of single-parent families. They need this kind of support.”
The civic association entered into intensive discussions with the county government, and the result was a partnership in which Smithers and her team received a grant to manage the pool, allowing them to transform it back into an aesthetically appealing neighborhood asset. Recognizing that even the low admission fee of $1 for ages 15 and under and $2 for older youth can be difficult to afford for families mired in poverty, Sandra established a policy in which children and teens can clean up and turn in a bag of park litter in return for a day pass.
Today, the pool has become a safe, appealing magnet for children and youth in the neighborhood, attracting daycare providers, a county day camp program and the local Boys and Girls Club. County police are rarely needed to break up disturbances, and talks are underway with a foundation to create a walking path and build a shelter for community events.
Along the way, Sandra joined the board of NeighborWorks member Interfaith Community Housing of Delaware (ICHDE), which builds and restores homes in Dunleith.
As a result of her hard work and efforts to collaborate, community spirit has conquered the downward pull of blight in Sandra Smithers’ corner of Wilmington.
Neighborhoods making a splash
Meet Sandra Smithers, one of seven winners of our 2015 Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership Award, who is transforming her neighborhood in Delaware with a pool that now serves as the heart of the community.