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From left, Lancaster Director of Neighborhood Engagement Milzy Carrasco; AmeriCorps VISTA member Carl Patterson; Talia Ramella and Rose Rodriguez of Cities of Service; and AmeriCorps VISTA member Michael Prescott speak with Howard Avenue resident Butch Padget during a tour of the neighborhood on Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

THE ISSUE

In 2018, Lancaster was one of 10 cities selected for Love Your Block, a two-year community engagement program created by New York-based nonprofit Cities of Service. For the past year, it’s been run here by two AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) members. As LNP’s Tim Stuhldreher reported in last weekend’s Sunday LNP, the program is “housed within the Department of Neighborhood Engagement at City Hall but is entirely privately funded. Cities of Service provided $25,000 initially, augmented since by more than $50,000 in additional third-party grants and in-kind donations.”

We read so often — including in these Opinion pages — about how divided Americans are. It can be dispiriting (for us, too).

But then we read about a program like Love Your Block and the young adults spending a year volunteering to help people make their communities better, and our hearts lift.

Carl Patterson, 25, is a Franklin & Marshall College graduate who previously served with F&M’s College Advising Corps. Michael Prescott, 29, a University of Nottingham (England) graduate, previously worked with the Reynolds Middle School after-school program and volunteered for Church World Service.

They’re the two who got the Love Your Block program up and running here. As Stuhldreher reported, the AmeriCorps VISTA members “serve yearlong terms, receiving stipends set at the local poverty level.” (According to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Wage Calculator, the poverty wage here is $5.84 an hour). So Patterson and Prescott have been working for hardly anything to help residents of the southeast section of Lancaster city improve their neighborhoods.

The Love Your Block program “encourages neighborhood residents to organize, collaborate and make connections with local government to solve problems in their communities,” Stuhldreher explained. “Groups can seek small grants to help cover expenses for projects such as trash cleanup, facade improvements and streetscape improvements such as planting greenery.”

In Lancaster city, Love Your Block started on Howard Avenue, then expanded to the Churchtowne neighborhood.

In just one year, it has completed nine projects, and drawn more than 250 volunteer participants who have contributed more than 1,300 hours. More than 2,000 pounds of trash have been removed, and 25 blocks have been “adopted.”

“I am a big fan,” Valerie Bradley, who lives on the first block of Howard Avenue (the “no hundred block”), told Stuhldreher.

We’re big fans, too. Adding shrubs or removing trash may seem like mere cosmetic improvements, but they can boost the spirits of neighbors and help foster neighborhood spirit.

Earlier this month, “with help from a grant, more than two dozen ‘no hundred’ residents held a beautification day, picking up litter, placing planters with flowers along the street and installing two public trash containers,” Stuhldreher reported.

Neighbors continue to meet; they plan still more events.

“We have a lot of excitement going on,” said Bradley, who’s resided in her neighborhood for 28 years. “I have seen a difference in the closeness of the community.”

Patterson and Prescott, whose terms as volunteers end Sept. 3, will be replaced by two new Americorps VISTA volunteers: Renee Addleman and Christian Cassidy-Amstutz.

We wish them well. And thank Patterson and Prescott for the evident energy and enthusiasm — and effectiveness — they brought to their service here.

Milzy Carrasco, director of the Office of Neighborhood Engagement, told LNP that Lancaster hopes to continue Love Your Block past its initial two-year run here, and is working on the fundraising needed to make that happen.

We hope it does.

Love Your Block is proof that government isn’t the only answer to a city’s needs. Even relatively small amounts of private money, when applied effectively, and volunteers, when trained well, can yield admirable results.

Fall applications now are being accepted from residents, neighborhood groups and organizations seeking grants — and the City of Lancaster has expanded the eligible area beyond Howard Avenue and Churchtowne to southside neighborhoods anywhere from Beaver Street on the west to South Broad Street on the east.

Parks and playgrounds now can be adopted, as well as residential blocks. The grants for park improvement projects can be up to $2,500; for neighborhood improvement projects, up to $2,000.

“The expansion roughly quadruples the number of eligible properties,” Stuhldreher reported.

What a great opportunity for residents in these neighborhoods. We look forward to seeing what their hard work — and that of the new volunteers — achieves with this investment from Love Your Block.

Every inch of Lancaster city should be as beautiful as the downtown. Its residents deserve no less.


Outlook more than fair

As staff writer Erin Negley reported in Sunday LNP’s Lancaster Living section, the county’s fair season opened this week with the Elizabethtown Fair, which runs through Saturday.

“Through October, fairs will pop up in six more communities throughout the county, which has the most fairs of any county in the state,” Negley reported.

The Elizabethtown Fair will be followed by the Denver Fair (Sept. 10-14), the Solanco Fair (Sept. 18-20), the Ephrata Fair (Sept. 24-28), the West Lampeter Fair (Sept. 25-27), the New Holland Farmers Fair (Oct. 2-5) and last but not least, the Manheim Farm Show (Oct. 7-11).

Which is the fairest county of all? The answer is clear. And it’s one more reason why we love this county of ours.