NeighborWorks Week, June 3-10, is a chance for NeighborWorks network organizations to connect and celebrate with residents and to highlight the ways they help empower communities for success. First celebrated in 1983, NeighborWorks Week has, for 40 years, been a time to give back to communities. This year, nearly 200 network organizations are taking part.
During the pandemic, many organizations switched to online events and campaigns – and continue to host them to connect with residents, volunteers and partners. But this year, more organizations have resumed in-person gatherings, from invasive plant removal and home rehab to resident appreciation days, festivals and workshops.
One of the organizations hosting an in-person event this year is Better Family Life, which supports homeownership for low- and moderate- income families around the St. Louis Metropolitan Area. The organization's housewarming party is a celebration of those who have taken on the responsibility of purchasing their first home, says Tyrone Turner, vice president of Community Engagement and Development.
"Often housewarming parties are not an option for our buyers,” he says. “Many of the people we serve are urgently looking to move into the home or lack resources to celebrate and that's where we decided to step in.” Turner says the housewarming party is not just for fun. “It’s an opportunity to show the world that low-income families can take part in homeownership.”
During the event, staff provide home maintenance tips and financial seminars, and offer giveaways, games and food. “We want each person and their family members to know how proud we are of them going through the necessary steps to make homeownership a reality,” Turner says.
At last year’s event, new homeowners talked about the courage that the organization gave them as they moved toward homeownership. “It makes you feel like you can conquer the world,” one homeowner said. Better Family Life expects more than 100 attendees this year.
At Lawrence CommunityWorks, NeighborWorks Week will include a block party, with an effort to bring the community and local police department together. “We believe that building a good relationship between the police and the community is essential,” says Samantha de la Cruz, resource development specialist. “In previous years, volunteers would go door-knocking with 10 police officers on the day of the event, going to about 300 homes.”
During the pandemic, the organization shifted to setting up a table for police officers, part of Lawrence CommunityWorks’ community committee, to meet with residents. “They stay for three to four hours, talking to people and building a relationship with the families in attendance as well as the kids that come to talk to them. They also come around with their ice cream truck for about an hour – which is, by far, the kids' favorite part.”
Community Action Partnership of North Alabama (CAPNA) is hosting a Front Yard Facelift for NeighborWorks Week. The program (related to the Block Makeover the organization does each fall when it’s cooler and easier to do yardwork in Alabama) brings together volunteers to spruce up yards, repair homes and give neighborhoods more pride and curb appeal, says Candy Ayers, director of Homeownership Services.
The facelift will focus on homes of veterans and disabled residents in Cullman. In one yard, Ayers says, they’re taming an overgrown property and planting roses, a favorite flower of the homeowners. They’re also pressure washing the home. “We’re getting it revitalized so they will have something proud to come home to.” At another stop, they’ll paint the entire home.
When they do programs like this, they try to choose streets with mostly homeowners, Ayers says. Last year, they refurbished 20 houses in East Decatur and two homes for disabled veterans in Cullman. This week, they’ll focus on five homes in Cullman and more in Decatur in the fall. As they repair the outsides, they’ll also work on the insides through CAPNA’s weatherization program. The event normally brings out 50 volunteers. This year, Desperation Church alone is bringing in 50 volunteers. “If we could, we would do this all year long,” Ayers says.
Want to know how other NeighborWorks network organizations are celebrating NeighborWorks Week and empowering communities for success? Follow #NWweek on social media or follow @neighborworks on Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.