2 join Hamilton effort to erase blight, strengthen community

Two members of the AmeriCorps VISTA program will spend the next nine months working to beautify parts of Hamilton. After that, two more VISTA members will spend another year doing the same thing, as part of a program to eliminate blight in cities across the country.

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Brooke Wells, 22, of Hamilton, and Tyler Cook, 22, of the Dayton area, were chosen to be part of the program that, in addition to erasing blight, works to strengthen neighborhoods and build community.

Wells, a Badin High School 2014 graduate, completed her psychology degree at Ohio State University this year, while Cook graduated in June with a criminal justice degree from Xavier University.

They will lead volunteers with home-improvement projects that make minor repairs on homes to make areas more attractive.

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Hamilton was among 10 cities, along with Milwaukee, Wisc., Buffalo, N.Y., and others, that won $25,000 grants over the two-year period to battle blight as part of a program operated by Cities of Service, a non-profit organization founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other mayors. The $25,000, awarded by the Cities of Service “Love your Block” competition, will be used for building materials and equipment.

“I was undecided on what I wanted to do after college, and this opportunity presented itself to me through family friends,” Wells said. “I love working with people — that’s why I studied psychology — and I thought this would be a great way to give back to my community, the town that I grew up in, and also do something that I’m interested in.”

“AmeriCorps seemed like the best fit for me,” said Cook. “I started looking at a bunch of AmeriCorps programs and applied to different ones. I really liked this one because I like the idea of working within the community and making an impact for neighborhoods as a whole.”

Karen Wittmer, Hamilton’s program coordinator for volunteers, said, “What we’ve decided to do with ‘Love your Block’ is literally, love your block. We’re going to do home-improvement projects — minor repairs on homes.”

Possibilities include landscaping, shrub-trimming, porch spindle repairs and other improvements to homes’ exteriors.

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In 2019, they will work in the East End and Armondale neighborhoods, picking three or four homes in each of those communities “that might need a little love,” Wittmer said. They are looking to work on houses that are in a cluster within the same block. In 2020, they will do the same, in Hamilton’s North End and Jefferson neighborhoods.

“We’re going to put nomination forms out in January, so we’re working on materials right now,” Wittmer said. They will be seeking areas where the volunteers can make a visual difference to lift up the areas and perhaps inspire neighbors to make further improvements to their properties.

“It’s about instilling hope in people,” Wells said.

As part of the program, Wells and Cook work 40 hours per week and are paid stipends. They have been working since Sept. 4.

They also are working with Hamilton’s 17Strong program that strengthens the city’s 17 neighborhoods.

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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.

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