Planting a seed in Lincoln Heights

This story is part of our THRIVING for 10 Years series celebrating WeTHRIVE!’s 10th anniversary. Today we talk with LaVerne Mitchell, who has been an advocate for WeTHRIVE! in her community of Lincoln Heights since the beginning.

When Lincoln Heights cut the ribbon on the WeTHRIVE! community garden in 2010, LaVerne Mitchell was there (she’s third from the left in the picture below). As mayor at the time, she recalls how the entire community came together that day to make it happen. The village provided land for the garden. Residents with gardening experience taught everyone else. Seeds were planted, literally and figuratively.

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“I think that one of the most outstanding things that came out of those early years of WeTHRIVE! in Lincoln Heights was the ability to do that first garden,” LaVerne said. “It started something that lasts today.”

Growing access to fresh produce

“What happened was that once we did that first garden, we did another,” said LaVerne, who now serves on village council. “Then the churches started gardens, and we were able to give people box gardens for their yards.”

Today, the churches in Lincoln Heights work with the Freestore to hold food pantries during the summer. “It kind of blended together,” LaVerne said. “St. Simon’s garden is still flourishing and the churches take turns hosting the pantry … for all the talk about a food desert, we have it going on, at least for several months a year.”

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Growing Safe Routes to School

What started ten years ago with Walk to School Days at Lincoln Heights Elementary has grown to a partnership that in 2017 won a $400,000 Safe Routes to School infrastructure grant.

The Lincoln Heights WeTHRIVE! team, the elementary school, and Princeton City Schools collaborated to apply for the Safe Routes funding from the Ohio Department of Transportation. The grant will fund improvements such as sidewalks, crosswalks, signage, and lighting. “It will not only be a safe route to school, but it will be a safe route through the community,” LaVerne said.

Growing safe & healthy places to play

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The youth of Lincoln Heights have more places to play than they did ten years ago. A new playground at Memorial Field was built by community volunteers and a team from Lowe’s. Volunteers also built a new basketball court across from the police station as well as a small playground at Villas of the Valley.

Being active isn’t limited to youth. When St. Monica’s Recreation Center agreed to allow a group of women to exercise there, WeTHRIVE! funds purchased weights, exercise balls, a TV and exercise tapes, hula hoops, and other equipment. The Sassy Jazzy Seniors exercise group is still going strong today. “It really has helped a lot of women,” LaVerne said. “One in particular had a stroke and she will tell you that coming there saved her life.”

And kids can play on village-owned property without being exposed to secondhand smoke, thanks to village council passing an ordinance that made Lincoln Heights the first tobacco-free municipality in the county.

Growing WeTHRIVE! in Lincoln Heights

So why has LaVerne stayed involved with WeTHRIVE! all these years? “For me, it’s somebody was interested in us, they invested in us, and it improved the quality of life in the valley,” she said. “And it’s not just for Lincoln Heights now. We’re all in this together. You want the quality of life, but you can’t have a good quality of life unless people next to you have a good quality of life. It’s all interconnected.”

Check out our WeTHRIVE! Lincoln Heights playlist on YouTube.

Read more stories about WeTHRIVE! in Lincoln Heights:

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