Hamilton to get $25,000 and 2 employees to fight blight

The city of Hamilton was one of 10 cities that won a “Love Your Block” competition sponsored by the Cities of Service organization and the AmeriCorps VISTA program. As a result, Hamilton over the next 12 months will receive a $25,000 grant and two VISTA workers to fight against blight.

Cities of Service, a non-profit organization founded by New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and 16 other mayors, works with cities to target various needs, such as blight. The group supports a coalition of more than 250 cities across the Americas and Europe.

“We’re really excited to work with Hamilton,” said Rosalind Erwin, senior program manager at the New York-based Cities of Service. “They have a really great volunteer strength already in the city that we see, and a great commitment to these issues around neighborhood-revitalization.”

The city’s 17Strong program should be able to provide a template for the grants from the $25,000 that will be awarded in Hamilton to erase blight, because the Hamilton group, named for the city’s 17 neighborhoods, has been awarding micro-grants for other reasons, and has learned how to make the grant-application process easier in recent years.

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The VISTA program was conceived by President John F. Kennedy and started by President Lyndon Johnson as part of the War on Poverty. It is similar in some ways to the Peace Corps, which works internationally, but VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) workers do their service only in this country and U.S. territories. In 1994, it became part of the AmeriCorps.

Karen Wittmer, Hamilton’s program coordinator for volunteers, said the $25,000 and the VISTA workers’ duties are “all about improving neighborhood blight.”

“Once they’re here and we get more into it, it could be working on a block in the city that needs some work,” she said, noting the work should start shortly after Labor Day. “They’ll work with the 17Strong committee.”

Erwin said officials are looking for VISTA workers in Hamilton and the other nine winning cities, which include Buffalo, N.Y.; Gary, Ind.; Hartford, Conn.; Huntington, W.Va.; Lancaster, Pa.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; Newark, N.J.; Richmond, Va.; and South Bend, Ind.

People interested in learning about the AmeriCorps VISTA program, or applying for it, can go to my.americorps.gov or the anti-blight program itself at www.citiesofservice.org.

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“The VISTA members do a lot of face-to-face community outreach, and also, in city hall, preparing for this new mini-grant program, building the infrastructure that is needed, things like creating an application, requests for proposals, parameters for the grant, and getting internal partners on board,” Erwin said.

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