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Fall 1997 Outreach Weekend #2

Community Outreach Weekend #2 was another big success for the East St. Louis Action Research Project. On October 17 and 18, 1997, over 130 University of Illinois students and faculty ventured down to East St. Louis, Illinois, to work with neighborhood residents on a wide range of community improvement projects. The projects were all identified by community residents in East St. Louis and were completed in cooperation with neighborhood groups. The University of Illinois students were hard working and enthusiastic, making the trip very successful. The following are detailed accounts of the seven main projects they completed

Alta Sita Neighborhood

The students and faculty in the Alta Site neighborhood had a great work weekend, participating in a neighborhood clean-up. Approximately twenty students accomplished a lot without any whining and complaining. They cleaned around 17 lots, backyards and basements, spruced up their mini-park, cleaned up around a new house intended for a low-income family, and demolished and reconstructed a fence in one backyard.

Emerson Park Neighborhood

About 28 students worked in Emerson Park neighborhood. (Two van loads) On Friday they attended a Panel Discussion entitled "The Criminal Justice System: Is it working?", sponsored by the East St. Louis Police Department and the Community Coalition Against Violence. Recently a "confessed" murderer was set free and the community has begun to lose faith in the Criminal Justice System. This discussion was used to help restore the citizen's faith.

Friday afternoon students went out into the neighborhood door-knocking and passing out flyers in the neighborhood to inform residents how to get involoved in the neighborhood organization.

All day Saturday, students conducted parcel condition surveys. They collected information on all of the 2,000 parcels in Emerson Park. Information collected included building condition, parcel condition, number of street trees, land use, etc. The data that the students collected will form the backbone of the Emerson Park Neighborhood Plan Update that will be completed by a Spring 1998 Urban Planning Workshop course.

Lansdowne Neighborhood

On Friday 14 students did a site cleanup in Landsdowne on 41st street. They met Mr. King at about 10:30 AM and started mowing the lawn and cleaning up garbage. Mr. King helped out in the morning and was very attentive to the students' needs. By the end of the day, the tall grass and weeds were all removed and the site looked great! The work day ended at about 4:30.

On Saturday, the group split up and went to work at three different sites. They also had some community helpers along with Mr. King at each site, which was really nice. Four students went back to 41st street and finished up the site they had worked on on Friday. There were no community helpers at that site. One of the neighbors on 41st street asked if the students could mow his lawn. Mr King said "NO! These residents have grown sons who can mow the lawn!"

About four students went to a large site on 37th street and began clearing the bushes and trees with the help of two or three community volunteers brought over by Mr. King. This was a large site and the students cleaned up the garbage and mowed the lawn as best they could. There was a big improvement by the end of the day, but there was still work to be done. Tall trees had to be cleared and cut down; the group did not have the equipment to do that.

The remaining students, along with four or five community residents, went to a smaller site on 43rd street. This was a VERY overgrown lot and had a LOT of garbage. Mr. King used a chain saw and cut a lot of the trees/bushes down. The rest of the group cleared the branches and clipped the smaller trees. They also picked up about 30 bags full of garbage. The site looked much better at the end of the work day.

Dunham Museum and Residences

On Friday a small team of naive and ususpecting architecture students began cleaning up Katherine Dunham's yard and the two adjacent to it. Before anyone could say "do we have like a screw driver or something?" the swing set in Ms. Dunham's yard that had seen better days was dismantled and laying in a neat pile. Also, a huge pile of debris from a dilapidated garage was moved closer to alley so the City could haul it away.

Simultaneously, Craig Miller of NTAC and a few select assistants were tearing down a small porch at Ms.Dunham's residence. They had a few problems getting the posts dug through the rough ESL terrain (bricks and stuff), but by the end the second day, it was the best and most stable porch anyone had ever seen! The crew did an outstanding job and should be commended! They were very eager to work and did so without complaining.

Research Assistant Mike Leonard was also able to sit in on a meeting with professors Ken Reardon, Varkki George and Ms. Katherine Dunham! Ms. Dunham discussed her plans for the future of her Museum and the recording of her memoirs. Says Mike, "She is a VERY interesting individual and has a great sense of humor. I enjoyed the visit greatly".

2999 Virginia Place

Work got off to a slow start at Virginia Place, but picked up as the weekend progressed. Six dedicated youths painted the front porch of 2999 Virginia Place a foul mauve color. Around lunch on Saturday, they took a step back and realized that this was the ugliest color imaginable for a front porch ( not to mention the rest of the house was brown and green).

On Saturday afternoon, three student construction groups were running around simultaneously. The first group was repainting the front porch a dark brown color that was 100 times better. The second group was putting the railings on the back porch (the one that had been constructed by ESLARP last work weekend). They also sawed off the overhanging wood from previous construction. The third group of workers was in charge of putting up the fence on two sides of the back yard. They dug the holes, mixed the concrete, sank the poles, and hung the fence like professionals. Says Research Assistant Marc Roberts, the site leader, "I have never seen so much work accomplished in such a short time. All three projects were completed in three hours. These workers gave me all they had and actually asked questions when they had them. Amazing. They deserve high honors and gold stars all around".

Olivette Park Neigborhood

Work was done by two dedicated groups of students in the Olivette Park neighborhhod. The first worked at the Mamie Bolden Community Garden. They mowed the three foot high grass and cleared the lot of debris and fallen branches. This work was done in preparation for plantings and lanscaping to be done in the following outreach weekend. The Bolden Garden group also cleared a couple nearby alleys in the neighborhood.

The second Olivette Park group worked with volunteers from Operation New Spirit on lot clean-ups at three vacant parcels. They moved heavy trash and yard waste, shunning lunch on Friday until after 2:00. Working with neighborhood volunteers, the group of five students was able to accomplish a great deal of work.

Winstanley-Industry Park Neighborhood

Van #5 worked predominently at 1845-47 St. Louis Avenue for WIPNO, the Winstanley-Industry Park Neighborhood Organization. This four-unit house is to be WIPNO's first effort at a rehab of a multi-family housing unit.

The work was explained by Ken Reardon and Craig Miller of NTAC. Twenty students volunteers spent all of Friday and most of Saturday on this. The work focused along two areas: hollowing out of the house's inside - ripping out carpet, torn ceilings and broken walls; knocking out broken glass windows; and sweeping the floor. Clearing the brush around the house - trimming bushes and trees, removing trash and fence posts, and weed whacking.

All of this work was done to get the house in suitable condition for architects to come in and perform a proper assessment for rehab.

Saturday afternoon, five group members worked on a house in Alta Sita. Alongside three residents and a plethora of kids, they cleared weeds, cleaned out the garage and an outdoor fireplace, and got the kids to pick up trash around the neighborhood. These people really enjoyed the work.

Document author(s) : Bryan Friedman
Last modified: 19 November 1997, Deanna Koenigs