Commitment to Community cleans city, unites residents
October 23, 2008
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Louis Gonzalez, a former labor union organizer out of the Bay Area, works as a community co-coordinator with the local non-profit Commitment to Community to make Walla Walla neighborhoods better, safer and livelier. Commitment to Community, also known as C2C, is comprised of three full-time staffers and one part-time one.
Their mission is to bring local community members closer with their neighbors in an effort to revitalize neighborhoods that have become victims of poverty, neglect and crime. Started in 2004, the organization operates under the Blue Mountain Action Council.
“Blue Mountain Action Council is an umbrella for a lot of agencies, including the local AmeriCorps, a literacy project, homeless programs, jobs for youth, any number of things,” said Gonzalez.
One way C2C helps bring community members together is to get them to paint murals at the underpasses of highways. For example, at Ninth Avenue and Elm Street, on one side of the underpass is painted fishes, sharks and whales; on the other side, there are tigers and a jungle.
“The mural was really a device to get people to work together. The interesting thing is that the children were really intimidated by art because they don’t really do it in the school system, but once they got started they got really into it. It’s a vehicle for building relationships. We’ve talked to neighbors during our projects who said ‘Gosh I never really knew my neighbors’,” said Gonzalez.
C2C is not an organization that works independent of the local neighborhood. Rather, it seeks to bring people together and empower them to take control of their neighborhood.
Another project C2C has successfully completed is revitalizing Jefferson Park. Before, it was a haven for drug dealers and gangs, but now it’s a gathering place for the neighborhood.
“Police calls have gone down, [by] a little over 90 percent. The work here is not our agenda; we’ve created neighborhood gatherings where people could start talking and dreaming about their neighborhood,” emphasized Gonzalez.
For example, code enforcement violations, such as complaints about noise violations, have dramatically decreased.
The most prominent and current project of C2C is the Edith-Carrie Project. Located next to the local penitentiary by Carrie Avenue and Ninth Avenue, this neighborhood has traditionally been viewed as run down and neglected. The first thing C2C did was clean up the area. Originally, there were three 40-year-old run-down trailers inhabited by drug dealers who brought a lot of social problems to the neighborhood.
“So we went to the Sherwood Trust, and got a grant to buy 11 properties, and the condition was that the neighborhood had to define what to do with the properties. We came up with a park. This is a private park; it’s run by the neighborhood. The rotary club is donating trees. Any homeowner that wants a tree will be provided one appropriate to their space,” said Gonzalez.
Currently, many neighborhood volunteers put in upwards of 10 hours each Saturday to work on the park, building fences, cleaning up the ground, preparing it for winter, and making a gazebo. The neighborhood has held ice cream socials and neighborhood movie nights at the park. Even the penitentiary’s superintendents have attended these neighborhood meetings and have allowed the park to expand onto a sliver of the penitentiary’s land for 99 years at one dollar per year.
Right now, there are plans in the works to construct a neighborhood center in the park as well.
“The whole point of the neighborhood center is that in this economy, it’s hard for non-profits and neighborhood agencies to work. So when we have our neighborhood center, other agencies can come and provide services like workshops [and] immunizations; the library can come in here and do some of their literacy stuff. So that really helps some of the other agencies provide their services and meet their mission as well, so it’s kind of sharing all that we do,” said Gonzalez.
The local residents have embraced C2C’s mission of empowering the community too.
“I’ve lived here for 23 years and I thought it’d never change until they came along,” said Shirley Kerns, a resident of the Edith and Carrie neighborhood.