Volunteers take city parks from dismal to dazzling

Americorps, the City Year program, and Blight Busters are coming together to celebrate Americorps Week by rehabilitating Riordan Park around Brightmoor in Northwest Detroit. Before this team showed up, it was in substantial disrepair.

“People forget how important parks and recreation centers are to the health of a neighborhood,” Mayor Dave Bing said at the opening rally at Hope Park, just a few blocks away.

These organizations and more than 150 volunteers stood outside in the unseasonably cold weather, ready to rake leaves, pick up trash, and restore Riordan Park to its original beauty. When the day was done, we also painted the playground equipment, removed the old fence and rehabbed the baseball diamond.

“It warms the heart,” Bing said with a smile.

Matt Tommelein has been working with the Americorps Center for Urban Studies since March and is currently assigned to the Urban Safety Project. It seems having someone working on urban safety also cleaning up a park stands testament to Bing’s speech. Clean, safe parks and recreation centers do wonders in building communities and a sense of safety overall.

Why did Tommelein join the Michigan Americorps? “I wanted to go into community organizing and this was a direct transition,” he explains as he rakes debris away from a torn-down chain link fence “We tackle these problems neighborhood by neighborhood… at the block level.”

In less than three months, he’s done work in Woodbridge, New Center, West Canfield, and eight other neighborhoods surrounding Wayne State University.

“There is a sense of citizen initiative here. Where the city can’t step in, the community is helping itself,” he explains.

The Urban Safety project is working on building block clubs in these central neighborhoods. They go door to door, surveying city residents and explaining how to start up these community organizations. They help neighbors get to know one another, which is perhaps the biggest factor in improving the safety of a neighborhood.

For more information on the Michigan Americorps’ work, block by block (and park by park) visit their website. You can find a list of the other projects they’re working on in celebration of Americorps Week.

Photo credit: Karpov the Wrecked Train. See our Flickr set for more pictures of the event.

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