Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Classes feed grass roots

Citizens pick up do-it-yourself strategies for neighborhoods

By Allen Howard
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The neighborhood needed a crosswalk. The city was too busy to do it. Residents did it themselves.

        That happened in Blue Ash last year when construction on Cooper Road forced traffic onto narrow West Avenue.

        Residents were concerned because some motorists were clocked going 50 mph in a 25-mph zone where children played. When the city didn't build the crosswalk, the residents did.

        That is an example the Community Building Institute at Xavier University teaches citizens interested in organizing grass-roots projects.

        Thirty-five citizens from Lincoln Heights, Over-the-Rhine, east Covington, the East End, Price Hill, the Northern Kentucky Combined Health District, Hamil ton, Madisonville and Corryville recently finished the course.

        “They represent neighborhoods with great potential for citizens' participation,” said Steve Driehaus, director of the institute. “We just help them identify tools already available and develop their plan of action.”

        Mr. Driehaus said the institute also offers small grants for community-based projects in neighborhoods where representatives have attended the classes.

        Mary Dunlap and Sue Micheli of Madisonville were in the class. It gave them added knowledge to help push for a recreation center.

        The $3.2 million center is to be built next year in Stewart Park. Some residents are upset that the center will eliminate several ball fields in the park.

        “We have 4,000 children out here, and we need to rely on our positive resources to get the center built. This is how the classes at the institute will help, because they teach us to use the residents, community associations, schools and businesses to get a project done.”

        Ms. Micheli said she will concentrate on establishing a business and economic development committee to deal with the high vacancy rate of businesses in Madisonville.

        “We don't even have a grocery store in Madisonville,” Ms. Micheli said.

        In the East End, the Rev. Clarence Cox, pastor of Phillips Chapel CME Church, will use the knowledge to assess individuals' interest in helping the community.

        “I think people in the East End have lost faith in the community council,” the Rev. Mr. Cox said. “What the class taught us is that we can do grass-roots organizing and empower the people who have lost faith.”

        He said the East End is still embroiled in a struggle between upscale developers and residents who prefer to keep lower-priced housing.

        “We have to let the people know that the floods are not the only thing that can move them out of the East End. If we fall asleep, we may wake up one day and bulldozers will be at our front door,” he said.

        In Lincoln Heights, Tiereny Hamilton, who works with the National Children and Families at Risk Program, said motivating people is a big problem.

        “The classes focus on teaching people that they can make a difference in what happens in their communities when they get involved,” she said.

        For more information about the Community Building Institute, call 745-3329.



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