Building pride in local neighborhoods

Local artists, children, neighbors, and community leaders come together to beautify an abandoned home.

What if through coordination between local artists, volunteers, and some school children, we could reduce crime and restore pride in neighborhoods across the Rock River Valley? It’s not an unrealistic goal — it’s a reality in Rockford.

On an overcast and gray day in summer 2019, vibrant colors, infectious laughter, and good old-fashioned teamwork was on display at United Way’s 8th Avenue Strong Neighborhood House. Neighbors driving by saw children helping artists — several from the Rockford Area Arts Council and Rockford Art Museum — prime and paint plywood that would eventually replace plain boards that enclosed doors and windows at an abandoned house down the street. That house sits directly across from the new Constance Lane Elementary School, where many of the children will be attending next school year. When told they were helping revitalize their new school’s neighborhood, the pride on their faces was unavoidable.

Just weeks later, the works of art created by the children and artists were on display on the windows and doors of the empty house on Gregory Street. Volunteers with HomeStart and Habitat for Humanity gave their time to scale the house and get the painted boards up, paid simply in pride of restoring a local neighborhood (and some pizza at the end of the day.)

The impact? Later that day, after the decorative boards were put up, a volunteer driving by the house saw a neighbor out painting their fence. When asked what he was up to, he answered, “A bunch of people came over this morning to make the neighborhood look better, I figured I could do my part.”

Those colorful boards and that neighbor’s freshly painted fence is what change looks like. It’s change that builds pride in our community. It’s change United Way is proud to be a part of.