Neighborhoods don’t become littered and run down overnight. It takes a while. A discarded bottle here; a forgotten park there, houses abandoned one by one; it’s hardly noticeable until, “urban blight” has taken over.
Likewise, it takes more than a day or a weekend to restore a neighborhood to a state where the residents can feel proud they live there. It’s one lot at a time, one trash pile cleaned up, one less bottle in the gutter, and there are no short cuts. It takes people actually getting out into the neighborhood, bending over, picking up, cutting grass, weeds, even renegade trees, until, one empty lot, one block at a time.
That’s what’s been going on at Dayton Christian Center (DXC) over the summer. Over a period of four months, a number of deeply committed volunteers groups have dedicated they days to helping restore a neglected park, clean up trash, cut down high weeds, plant flowers, and spread mulch in the area of West Riverview and Ferguson Avenues to do their part to make a better world.
The chapter in this effort happened this past Saturday, July 23 when 19 young people came to DXC as part of the INROADS Intern Process.
Ignoring extreme temperatures – over 90 degrees – and equally high humidity, the young college students did the hard work of community beautification that others have started. They took on three projects at and around DXC that will make a difference to those who live here.
Previously, another group of volunteers had begun the process of restoring the little park situated on Ferguson, near Negley Place, taking the accumulated trash there and putting in one pile in an abandoned lot. Friday, Montgomery County Solid Waste District Roll Off program delivered a large roll off dumpster to a nearby lot for be filled Saturday by the volunteers. The roll off program allows qualifying to apply for these dumpsters for organized neighborhood clean up projects. This was the project the INROADS volunteers were to take on.
There were other things for them to do as well. DXC has a full playground located in back of the building that is regularly used in good weather to insure our students get at least an hour of physical activity every day. By law, this playground must be recovered with a special mulch to help prevent injury to the children. This is a large undertaking and requires the labor of quite a few people, and was very important for the staff and families at DXC, so the INROADS interns accepted the responsibility for taking care of that job, too.
The last project was a way for the young people to leave a more permanent, personal mark on DXC and make use of their artistic talents as well.
“We recently had one of our classrooms – we call it the Teddy Bear Room -- repainted by another group of volunteers,” said DXC Associate Executive Director Sarah Williams, “and while it’s a really great job, the walls were just plain white. We wanted to have them decorated; a little more pleasant for the kids who spend their days in there, so we asked the INROADS volunteers to help out.”
Predictably, the chosen décor was teddy bears. It was a way for the volunteers to not only feel a connection to our students, but also provide them with a little air conditioned comfort on an otherwise grueling day.
The day had its challenges, even so. When one of the wheel barrows was found to have an irreparable flat tire, it didn’t faze these young workers. They simply filled it with mulch anyway and carried it to where it needed it to be. When they ran across some less-than-desirable discarded items in the trash pile, the just found a way to get it to the dumpster with the least amount of interaction. Throughout the entire four hour day, they smiled, laughed, sang and cheerfully went about tasks that others had ignored for far too long.
“We always cherish our volunteers,” Williams said afterwards, “but when you see young people like this spending the hottest part of the day mostly outdoors doing physical labor, and they are happy about it, it gives you a wonderful sense of hope. Of course we always thank our volunteers, and we really mean it – we’re always very grateful for whatever someone cares to give us. But sometimes, in cases like this, ‘thanks’ doesn’t seem like quite enough.”
This was DXC’s first partnership with the INROADS program, but very likely not the last.
“I really hope we can make this an annual event,” Williams said. “I know we’re extremely happy to have met everyone who came to help us out, and I hope it was an enjoyable day for them as well, so I hope we can keep on doing projects together.”
INROADS, Inc. Manager Erika Jay, who took part in the project along with the interns, said that the experience was gratifying and gave her a sense of satisfaction.
“The gratification came from pushing myself to accomplish hard work that will have an impact on my community,” Jay, who lives in Cincinnati, said. “While I don’t live in Dayton, I consider the world my community and am honored by the opportunity to give back.
She said that, in giving back, she received as well.
“It was such a simple thing; to paint a bear, but I wanted to make sure I took my time and made the space as warm as possible, knowing that they young children would be delighted that someone cared and wanted them to have a great day,” she said.
The INROADS Internship Process was created in 1970 by Frank C. Carr. Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have A Dream” speech, Carr, a corporate executive, left his well-paid, prestigious position to dedicate himself to quick and decisive action to increase diversity in the corporate management. He realized that young people of color faced challenges others did not and, in response, he developed a program that “indentifies, recruits, coaches, and trains outstanding and diverse college students, while partnering with top companies to provide salaried internships,” according to the program’s literature. Currently, the program has more than 270 Corporate Sponsors and nearly 2,000 college students taking part. It has more than 24,000 graduates and 36 offices in the US, Mexico and Canada.
In addition to offering young people a chance to develop the skills they need to advance in the corporate world, it also emphasizes the need to be involved in giving back to the community, and strongly encourages its enrollees to take part in projects such as the one at DXC this past weekend.
Dayton Christian Center has a long history of community involvement, dating back to its foundation in 1921 when it was one of 17 community action centers across the county created by the American Baptist Ministries USA. It currently offers low income families childcare services among other social service programs.