Building Strong Neighborhoods
For six weeks, residents from many different neighborhoods in Lake Worth met and formed dialogue groups for the Building Strong Neighborhoods program. Groups met to discuss the most important issues facing the city and brainstorm ways they can get involved in solving them.
Building Strong Neighborhoods is organized by the City of Lake Worth, the Lake Worth Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), Bridges of Lake Worth and Bridges of Highland and a local non-profit called Community Partners. Community Partners was previously involved in the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP-2) in Lake Worth.
The program is part of a larger grant called the Neighborworks Catalytic Grant. The grant includes neighborhood outreach and encourages public participation. The grant also covers early childhood education and youth activities. There is also money for residential improvements, infrastructure, and microloans.
During the first five sessions residents met in two different groups, one for Spanish speakers and one for English speakers. Attendance was strong, approximately 25 each week in the Spanish-speaking group, and approximately 15 per week in the English-speaking group. The final session on December 3 took place at the Compass Community Center, and both groups gathered together for the first time to summarize their ideas.
“During those conversations, residents talked about how they could participate in the process and do things to help their own neighborhoods,” said Joan Oliva, Executive Director of the Lake Worth CRA.
One of the most important topics discussed during the past five weeks has been safety. “Crime does not discriminate,” said Deputy Benito Gaspar, who participated in the program. Residents in all neighborhoods have the same concerns about security and improving the city.
During the six week program, barriers were broken down between the City, neighborhood associations, schools, and residents.
“Barriers existed for no specific reason, and residents have come to the understanding that no matter who you are or where you live in Lake Worth, we are all part of the same neighborhood,” said Joan Oliva. “The issues that concern somebody on South E Street are the same issues that concern somebody in College Park.”
Participants in the program worked identify short term and long term goals for the project. During the final meeting residents presented action plans based on their discussions. The action plan formed by the English-speaking group focused on better integration between schools and neighborhood associations. The participating residents committed to attending school board meetings and neighborhood association meetings, and to encourage the parents in their neighborhoods to do the same. The Spanish-speaking group presented a plan to improve volunteer efforts through the sheriff’s department, including creating a hybrid of the current volunteer watch program that would be accessible to more residents.
“These are solutions the people in these neighborhoods create for themselves,” said Jamie Lee Brown, Vice-President of Community Service at Community Partners.
The infrastructure component of the grant is being used to fund new LED lighting for neighborhoods in Lake Worth and to install additional lighting poles. Keeping an area well-lit is one of the most important preventative safety measures, and LED lighting in particular is more cost effective and uses less energy than traditional lighting. The first neighborhood to receive the LED lighting will be Royal Poinciana. Money is available for micro-loans for small businesses within the CRA district. These are offered in addition to technical support and larger business loans available through the CRA. A portion of the grant money was used for home-owner residential rehabilitation grants. The participating homes are located within the CRA District.
The Neighborworks Catalytic Grant will be complete on July 16, 2016. Some of the components, however, will continue on their own, including the action plan activities brainstormed during Building Strong Neighborhoods and the microloan program.