Pulling up to an early 1900’s Foursquare-style home in Lansing’s Old Town, it’s hard to not notice a flurry of people standing on scaffolding, climbing ladders or on the porch with brushes in hand busily painting the home in Spartan green and white.
The homeowner of this century old home on Capital Avenue is Kelly Jo Kitchen, a five-year Old Town resident, retired Holt school teacher and Spartan alum, who is also one of the many volunteers helping Habitat for Humanity Capital Region revitalize homes in Old Town during Rock the Block, a weeklong neighborhood revitalization program that was held July 18 – 22.
“I could not afford to paint my whole house, but Habitat made it so easy to do. They knocked door to door in my neighborhood and said we are Habitat and we are coming to paint and I said that would be so fabulous,” said Kitchen. “What we are doing today is going to last for years. The legacy of the work that’s been put in is really going to be fantastic, and it preserves the house.”
Habitat for Humanity’s first two Rock the Block events transformed Old Town. In July, more than 250 volunteers painted or made minor repairs to six homes, mowed four to five blocks of residents’ front lawns and spruced up Turner Mini Park and Robert P. Busby Memorial Garden. During May’s Women Build edition of Rock the Block, 350 volunteers painted three homes, replaced porches, mowed 85 lawns and put in a new community garden.
It takes a village to truly make this kind of impact on a community. Habitat for Humanity makes it a priority to build local partnerships from every sector of the community – from local businesses and individuals, to faith communities and national partnerships – that volunteer or provide funding and supplies to make this huge effort a success.
Rock the Block does more than just repair houses. According to Habitat for Humanity Capital Region Executive Director, Vicki Hamilton-Allen, “the community is the backdrop to our everyday lives, when effort is made to improve the neighborhood, it creates a sense of safety and pride for the local residents.”
Lillian Werben, vice-chair of Habitat Young Professionals (HYP), helped paint a house on Walnut Street along with a bunch of volunteers from HYP. Having been a part of a family-owned business, Elderly Instruments, for 44 years, she is committed to bettering her community and is funneling her passion towards empowering young professionals to do the same.
“We thought it was going to be like pulling teeth to get young professionals interested. Yet we have a waiting list for 75 extra people because we don’t have enough projects. It’s cool to see what the younger people can bring to the table. This is only the second Rock the Block, but the longevity of it is well-suited for younger generations because we will be here to see it through,” said Werben.
The work Habitat for Humanity is doing in these neighborhoods with the help of many community partners is restoring hope in residents’ hearts and lives. And the visual impact on Old Town is real. In fact, local businesses are taking notice. One of Habitat for Humanity’s key partners is the Old Town Commercial Association, whose mission is to revitalize the commercial district.
“We focus on the business district, but we also have a community stake in what’s happening in Old Town. Having an effective relationship with the residents helps our business community as well.” said Ben Rathbun, director of the Old Town Commercial Association board, chair of Habitat Young Professionals and Habitat volunteer. “The Rock the Block revitalization project drives up property values, which makes the whole community better.”
Werben further emphasized why an effort like Rock the Block, just makes sense. “If we can make Lansing flourish as best as we can, it does nothing but bring more people to us, it brings more revenue for our city, it brings more well wishes, crime goes down and people are happy with everyone else. It’s a small start with a big finish. A big finish with hope.”