On a sunny Saturday in October, more than 400 volunteers came together in Lincoln Heights for Rock the Block, a neighborhood clean-up day organized by Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati. Some painted porches, fences, and shutters. Others raked leaves, pulled weeds, removed shrubs, and put in new landscaping. By the end of the day, they revitalized 27 homes and completed projects at Serenity Park and Lincoln Heights Elementary School.
A long time coming
Rock the Block is just one sign that Habitat for Humanity is back in Lincoln Heights. Work is underway on six Habitat houses in the community, with one new homeowner set to move in this month. Mayor Ruby Kinsey-Mumphrey, who is also a member of the Lincoln Heights WeTHRIVE! team, has been working to bring Habitat back for three years. “The last house Habitat had built in the Village was in 2008,” she said. “It took a lot of conversations and a lot of engagement, but I really wanted them to return to our community.”
Property for the new homes was acquired a year ago. At least five of the houses will be on Jackson Street, an area that’s been the focus of renewal. “It’s really going to brighten up the street,” Ruby said.
More than just a clean-up day
Michael Pearl is director of St. Monica’s Recreation Center and pastor of New Day Baptist Church in Lincoln Heights. He says Rock the Block was about more than fixing up homes and yards. “I’ve been working in this community going on nine years, and this was definitely one of the best days I’ve experienced,” he said. “It was just wonderful to see all the people in the community who came together, as well as all the outsiders who came to help with the day. It’s no secret that sometimes what we hear about the village is negative, but people came here. They learned there are good people and good families here and that people care about Lincoln Heights.”
Ruby agrees. “It was overwhelming to see all the support and how much people believe in moving the Village forward,” she said. “The volunteers were smiling and the homeowners were smiling. For some of the homes that were repaired, this was life-changing for them.”
“People left here with a different impression of Lincoln Heights,” Michael said. “Now when they hear on the news about something that happened in Lincoln Heights, they’ll still remember the positive experience they had that day. It will carry more weight than anything negative they hear about.”
Mayor visited every site
As mayor, Ruby had a very busy but rewarding day. “We – myself, my husband, and Lisa Randolph (clerk of council) – went from site to site, meeting everyone,” she said. “We met each and every homeowner and presented them with a certificate. The majority of the homeowners were seniors and they were very appreciative of the work that was done.”
One home that stood out to Ruby was a historical round house in Lincoln Heights. “The owner is 91 years old,” she said. “Volunteers painted her home and then were able to come inside the house. The homeowner’s daughter gave the history of house and the volunteers were amazed. There are only a few of these houses left in Hamilton county.”
A very special bench
Michael and his team of volunteers from New Day Baptist Church took on a very special project – fixing up the home of Mrs. Green, who they know well. She is raising three of her grandchildren and Michael says they come to St. Monica’s Recreation Center after school every day.
Mrs. Green’s husband passed away a few years ago. “He was the patriarch of the family,” Michael said. “Now she has a lot to keep up with the girls and their schoolwork, and she has a hard time keeping up with her home. When I heard that her house was a Rock the Block site, I made sure we were the ones doing the work.”
His team spent the day clearing weeds and landscaping. “Part of what was worked on was a part of the yard she called her sanctuary,” Michael said. “It was an area with a bench that had become overgrown with weeds. Mrs. Green was so grateful. She said, ‘I can finally go sit on my bench.’ She looked as happy as I’ve ever seen her look. There were lots of tears and hugs.”
Believing in Lincoln Heights
Community pride has always been a part of Lincoln Heights and Rock the Block is just one example of how it has been growing. “Residents are noticing and commenting on the positive things going on in the Village,” Ruby said. For example, a major street repair was finished just in time for the annual Lincoln Heights Day parade. “People were excited,” she said. “Things like that and Rock the Block make a big difference. We’re doing a lot … applying for grants, making better decisions, getting newsletters out quarterly, keeping citizens engaged. It makes people want to believe in the Village again.”
Top photo courtesy of Lisa Randolph.
For more photos of Rock the Block in Lincoln Heights, visit Cincinnati Habitat for Humanity’s Facebook page.
See a list of Rock the Block Lincoln Heights sponsors here.