In garden, neighborhood plants seeds of pride

A 7th Ward coalition leader wants to offer other neighborhoods help in creating their own gardens.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Ray Miller still has the sunburn from a day spent tilling the soil.
Nonetheless, he's been back regularly to the lot at Shady Run Road and Cornell Avenue, watering the future flower garden and spreading hay over the growing grass.
He's there because the dilapidated house on the formerly troubled corner was leveled early last year, and flowers are preferable over a lot overgrown with weeds.
There's a bigger reason, however, why Miller and the rest of the South Side neighborhood have pulled together to create the community garden.
"There's a lot of people in this area who do care," he said.
Residents such as Miller, as well as members of Lansingville Block Watch, 7th Ward Citizens Coalition and St. Matthias Church are converging on the site to demonstrate that pride.
The corner, about 50 feet wide and 120 feet long, soon will become home to a planned multilevel flower garden, trees, bushes and ground cover.
Benefits of pride: Picking up a rake and showing pride has numerous benefits in Miller's view, from connecting neighbors to inspiring others.
"The more we can do for the neighborhood ... the better off I am," said Miller, who has lived near the site for 11 years. "A cleaner neighborhood seems to be a safer neighborhood, too."
That's one goal for Jason Buday, who heads the block watch. The group was instrumental in getting the house torn down.
Just as important to him, however, is keeping the neighborhood a place where younger people want to start families.
Lansingville has many retired steel workers and their families. Keeping the next generation and drawing new, younger people will keep his section of town vibrant, Buday said.
Togetherness: To him, bringing people together is a key. For example, he planned an Independence Day parade for 5 p.m. Sunday that will move along Indianola Avenue.
"It's all about pride, for all of us," Buday said. "We're hard-working people. We have pride in our neighborhood and our home. "We don't want it to look like a dump."
An active neighborhood is vital to the church, too, said Monsignor Peter Polando of St. Matthias. The church is playing a key role, committing to maintaining the garden once it's planted. The church and its school are just steps from the garden.
Churches depend upon a neighborhood, he said. Clergy is less effective when a neighborhood is in decline, he said. That's why St. Matthias is donating materials and groundskeepers to the project.
"We really want to keep it up to standards," Monsignor Polando said. "That's the least our parish can do."
Councilman John R. Swierz, D-7th, approached the cross-section of community groups and businesses about the garden. He raised about $1,300, but participation has grown. For example, neighborhood residents unfamiliar with the project have stopped by and ended up picking rocks out of the dirt.
"That's truly what a community project is about," he said.
A challenge: Swierz said he took a story in the Vindicator's series last month on blight as a challenge. The story was about flower gardens in Akron's neighborhoods.
But he wants more than just flowers to grow from the project. Swierz hopes a garden club springs up to maintain the spot, and a flower exchange program is established.
Harry Strabala, a leader in the citizens coalition, would advance the idea. He wants the coalition to extend offers to other neighborhoods to help them do what's happening at Cornell and Shady Run.
"I've heard more people positive about this than anything in a long time," Strabala said. "The key is to sustain it. We should encourage people everywhere."

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