By Darla Shelden
Making a difference in Oklahoma neighborhoods is what Georgie Rasco is all about. As Executive Director of the Neighborhood Alliance of Central Oklahoma, she champions the organization’s mission to create safe, attractive and healthy neighborhoods throughout Central Oklahoma.
“The SHINE Program is still very new in OKC but it has become an invaluable resource to help neighborhoods,” said Rasco. “OKC Neighborhoods are highly organized and know the importance of public/private partnerships. You seldom find a neighborhood that doesn’t recognize their need to pitch in and help beautify their own community. However, some of the work is just too much for a volunteer group. That is when SHINE can step in and help.”
“SHINE can help tackle the bigger projects on public lands like illegal dumps, hauling off old tires, cutting down diseased trees, etc.,” said Rasco. “This allows neighborhoods to concentrate their volunteer efforts on more manageable efforts like planting flowers, watering trees, and applying for landscape grants.”
“SHINE teams helped clean up debris from the curbside after volunteers assisted in rehabing senior citizens homes in the Riverpark Neighborhood,” said Rasco. “Riverpark is a poor but very proud neighborhood near SW 24th and Portland. In the last 6 years they have rehabbed 125 homes using project volunteers to help. Hauling off construction debris has always been a problem until SHINE stepped up to say they could handle that part.
“SHINE helped haul off over 2 tons of debris removed from a vacant lot in NE Oklahoma City,” said Rasco. “Criminals had started dealing drugs and hiding stolen property in the overgrown lot and the elderly residents were feeling fearful. After permission was given by the absentee owner, volunteers took chain saws and lots of sweat to clear the lot. Neighbors are so happy with the results they are considering holding their Neighbors Night Out picnic in the once forbidden lot.”
“A huge project recently took place in Capitol Hill last June,” said Rasco. “Over 100 volunteers and workers, most of which were from SHINE, converged on the area to spruce it up. SHINE helped plant donated flowers in the 17 gardens along SE 25th St., they painted the flag pole, spruced up the old bus stop, cleaned up trash from the public areas, and worked for hours alongside residents, church members and other volunteers to give back to this historical landmark. It was a party like atmosphere all day long with a cook out and dancing to keep the volunteers motivated.”
“Brian and the SHINE crew came out and cleaned up the creek area where we planted 40 trees,” said Tommy Hay, President Riverpark Neighborhood Association. “There was a jungle type area back in our north creek area that they cleaned up and did a really good job. The SHINE program has been a real success.”
“Volunteers from Chesapeake, Dell, and Hodges Trucking have all been part of our neighborhood projects,” said Hay. “Jeanna Daniel spearheaded the movement and we’ve been having Catholic Heart and other organizations come every summer to help since 2007. Projects can be everything from cutting someone’s grass, to doing something positive to a home, like a paint job, or a front porch wheel chair ramp. Most of these projects are done for people who don’t have the funds, or they’re disabled or senior citizens or all of the above.”
Hay has lived in Riverpark basically his entire life. “There are a lot of unsung heroes that are doing great work in our communities,” he said. “Delana Meziere is our graffiti repellant person. She’ll mow a neighbor’s lawn, or plant a flowerbed in a neighbor’s yard. She did some tree trimming and bought my mom a bird feeder.”
“I think Riverpark is in better condition now than it’s ever been in,” said Hay. “Tulsa Park is a nice place that people feel safe going to. One person can make a big difference in their community. We encourage young people to make positive choices.”
Crystal Lake, located at SW 15th and MacArthur, is a project close to Larry Bross’ heart. As Executive Director of City Care, he works for the homeless and low income in Oklahoma City.
“We have a tutoring program called Whiz Kids, with 1400 volunteers from 57 churches and 26 schools. For 9 years we’ve been coming to Crystal Lake with these inner city kids and we noticed in the last few years, it had become a dumping ground,” said Bross. “With the SHINE program we picked up over 2200 tires, a hot tub, a couple of abandoned boats, a van and I don’t know how many tons of shingles. They worked their tails off and they felt good about what they did. The program just makes a lot of sense to me.”
US Grant High School Coach Charles Welde requires his football players to perform 4 hours of community service each semester. “Our football team does not get the support from the community that other 6-A schools get,” said Welde. “We felt like we needed to give people a reason to support us. Brian, US Grant alumni, explained the SHINE program to me and it was a perfect fit. The project on S. 44th and Robinson is one he’s been trying to get done for some time so we were happy to volunteer. Our players were out there with chain saws in the 100 degree heat chopping down trees. It was work. It was also a rewarding experience.”
Some neighborhoods can be impacted when residents pull together.
“FBIR (Fairdale, Belle Isle and Riviera Neighborhood Associations) adopted Ross Park and we noticed that we had a real problem with dog poop,” said Toni Glen, FBIR Long Range Planning Committee Chair. “And there were also no trees due to the weather. We decided to hold a fundraiser called Pupnic in the Park. We had 60 raffle prizes donated by local merchants, sponsorships, and even pupcakes.”
“The event was a huge success with over a 1000 people,” said Glen. “We raised enough money to buy 4 poop bag stations, and to apply for a Margaret Annis Boys Trust grant, to get 60 trees in the fall. We also applied for the Community Beautification Water Program, to water the plants.”
The Margaret Annis BoysTrust Grant is part of the OKC Beautification project OKC Community Foundation.
“The event did more than just beautify the park,” said Glen. “It created an awareness and brought people’s attention to the problems. It was very educational.”
The Community Beautification Water Program gives qualified neighborhood associations the opportunity to apply for $1,000 in annual water credits to be used for watering planting beds and newly-planted trees in neighborhood parks or medians.
“This kind of help gives back to the entire city in many ways,” said Rasco. “The neighborhood feels supported and their pride is restored; the surrounding neighborhoods see what a committed group of citizens can accomplish and they are more apt to get organized and do their own beautification project. Our city becomes cleaner which attracts businesses and deters criminal activity; the SHINE crews and volunteers now know how important it is to pitch in and help an entire city one neighborhood at a time.”