By Sean Barron
Passing one two-story crumbling home in the 3400 block of Hillman Street on the South Side might make it easy for some people to use the residence as a means to define, then dismiss the neighborhood as undesirable.
A close look reveals missing and rotted steps to the back door, rampant weeds, a garage caving in and foliage so tall that much of the front is obscured. Most of the structure is boarded, but that doesn’t stop animals from traipsing through.
Nevertheless, a casual glance tells only a fraction of the story. Such an overreaching assumption about the neighborhood’s condition, and goals of many of its residents, fails to account for the efforts of people such as Mason Carratt.
“It’s very overwhelming, I’ll tell you,” an exhausted Carratt said while taking a brief break from cutting down overgrowth and removing an estimated 90 tires from the yard, as well as from a next-door property.
Carratt lives in the 3400 block of Idlewood Avenue behind the abandoned house and is part of the area’s 6th Ward Block Watch group. He is a main force in converting much of the property to community gardens and removing blight from the area.
Carratt also was among those who rolled up their sleeves to take part in Saturday’s Great American Cleanup of Youngstown Spring 2013 event.
An estimated 300 volunteers from 15 to 20 groups fanned throughout the city to pick up litter, mow yards and overgrown lots, plant gardens and spruce up numerous properties, noted Jennifer Jones, program coordinator for Green Youngstown, which spearheaded the four-hour annual beautification effort.
Carratt estimated it took nearly a year to clean and prepare the yard for one of the gardens, which he plans to use to grow tomatoes, squash and other vegetables for residents. In addition, much of the food will be given to people with disabilities, the elderly and veterans who live in a nearby apartment complex, he noted, adding that he places a high priority on recycling.
Carratt said he needs donated wood, mulch and animal traps. To make a donation, call him at 234-855-0259.
Nearby, Alexander James, the block watch’s president, took a quick breather after mowing several rows of tall grass on a corner lot. Saturday’s cleanup is in line with what he does regularly, he explained.
“We’re maintaining the neighborhood, and we try to get kids and neighbors involved in taking care of our community,” said James, who feels such collective efforts have led to greater trust among neighbors as well as a decrease in fear.
James, a Hillman Street resident, said he wants a greater number of youngsters to learn skills such as operating and caring for garden and other related equipment as a means to maintain their neighborhoods. Helping them feel needed and empowered goes a long way toward community revitalization, James added.
Refurbishing bus-stop benches, installing new trash receptacles and keeping parking lots litter-free also are helping to achieve that purpose along the Market Street corridor, thanks to activists such as Kevin Cunningham.
“I’ve been doing community-type work for 30 years,” said Cunningham, after removing litter from the Family Dollar lot at Market Street and St. Louis Avenue on the South Side.
Cunningham, a 40-year St. Louis Avenue resident and the 6th Ward Block Watch’s vice president, noted that grant money was used to undercoat, paint and refurbish the benches. Those beyond repair were discarded so as to remove an eyesore, he added.
Cunningham said he’s happy to see more of his neighbors active in his block’s upkeep.
Ridley Clark, 9; her brother, Boston Clark, 11; and friend Nathan Phillips, 9, were among those working on a large garden to feature 12 raised beds of vegetables and perennials that promise to improve the aesthetics of a West Side neighborhood.
The three students at The Montessori School of the Mahoning Valley Inc. pulled weeds around the beds and performed other similar work.
Ridley started a group at her school called Heal the World, which has 11 students who pick up trash and make blankets for shelter animals, among other things.
Also on hand were Ridley and Boston’s mother, Jaci Clark, and Becky Hutton, president of the West Side Citizens Coalition. Both painted and brightened a nearby fence.
In addition, members of Morristown, Tenn.-based 5R Processors Ltd. were at the Covelli Centre downtown to accept videocassette recorders, TVs, computers, fax machines, DVD players and other electronics as part of a recycling drive.
“More and more people get involved [in the cleanup] every year,” Jones said. “More groups get started in their communities and that’s what we want.”