Rose Rodriguez, a program manager with the nonprofit Cities of Service, had only been in Lancaster a few hours Wednesday afternoon, so she was reluctant to draw definitive conclusions about the city's implementation of her organization’s Love Your Block program.

But so far she had found nothing to quibble with. The level of collaboration and the enthusiasm she was seeing was amazing, she said.

“I think they get it,” she said.

Lancaster was one of 10 cities selected in 2018 for Love Your Block. Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies through Cities of Service, it provides funding and technical support to improve neighborhoods at the grassroots level by, among other things, encouraging neighborhood groups and providing mini-grants for projects such as cleanups, facade improvements and so on.

Lancaster's program is focusing initially on Howard Avenue and the ChurchTowne neighborhood in the southeast. The S. Dale High Foundation is providing funding that will allow expansion to other areas, said Milzy Carrasco, director of neighborhood engagement.

Poverty remains endemic in Lancaster’s southeast and southwest quadrants, the legacy of previous generations of economic and racial segregation.

In her election campaign, Mayor Danene Sorace pledged to promote neighborhood revitalization while avoiding the top-down “urban redevelopment” mistakes of the past.

Love Your Block is “a good community-building effort,” said Erin Dixon, co-founder of the ChurchTowne Neighbors group, which received a mini-grant to spruce up the 500 block of North Street.

She's trying to get more people involved and encourage other blocks to seek mini-grants in the next round this fall.

On Wednesday, Rodriguez and her colleague, AmeriCorps Vista leader Talia Ramella, toured the program area and spoke with residents and neighborhood leaders.

Marquis Lupton, CEO of podcast platform The Cultured Professional Network, showed them the results of the recent Love Your Block-sponsored cleanup at Crispus Attucks Community Center.

Facades were power-washed and painted, landscaping was restored, rooms were cleared of clutter built up over years. Nearly 600 pounds of trash was removed from the premises.

Besides those tangible improvements, the effort motivated and engaged the community, he said.

Strengthening neighborhoods

Love Your Block supports “Strong Neighborhoods,” one of Sorace’s four strategic priorities.

Last week’s second annual Mayor’s Neighborhood Week provided opportunity to highlight other neighborhood initiatives.

Monday launched Neighborhood Leaders Academy, a six-week course in grassroots community leadership. The roster of participants has grown from 12 to 17, Carrasco said.

On Thursday, Sorace and members of the administration’s Neighborhood Working Group toured the area in and around the 600 block of East Madison Street, conducting an “audit” to identify problems that could affect residents' quality of life.

Set up last year, the group brings staff from multiple departments together to tackle issues that cross departmental boundaries.

The week wrapped up with the second annual Neighbor to Neighbor forum, put on by Community Action Partnership of Lancaster County. Close to 90 people attended, exchanging ideas and hearing from Sorace and other city officials.

It was a diverse group and all four quadrants of the city were well represented, CAP’s CEO Dan Jurman said.

The city has crafted its neighborhood initiatives in response to resident input, Carrasco said. The programs that engage residents complement other initiatives within City Hall, like the working group.

“All of this came from what residents told us that they wanted,” she said.

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