O'Connor enlists backers to improve neighborhoods

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Pittsburgh city Councilman Corey O'Connor, whose late father introduced the "redd-up" campaign to Pittsburgh, has his own plan for improving the quality of life in East End neighborhoods.

"Corey's Crew," made up largely of volunteers from Mr. O'Connor's election campaign last year, will fan out across the 10-neighborhood council district to troubleshoot, clean lots, tutor students, maintain catch basins and help senior citizens.

"So many people want to help. This is a great outlet," said Mr. O'Connor, son of the late councilman and mayor Bob O'Connor. "This is a way to have more eyes and ears in the neighborhood."

On the group's first official outing Saturday, 15 crew members will help Hazelwood residents move old household items to the curb in anticipation of the Redd-Up Crew's neighborhood sweep next week.

Borrowing the Pittsburgh expression for tidying up, Bob O'Connor created the public works department's Redd-Up Crew after becoming mayor in 2006. His successor, Luke Ravenstahl, now oversees the crew and its high-profile blitzes of city neighborhoods.

Members of Corey's Crew also will work on an urban garden Sunday in Squirrel Hill and assist Greenfield activists with a "community needs survey" next month. Smaller projects will be handled as needed.

During last year's campaign, Mr. O'Connor was helped by some of his father's volunteers as well as a cadre of his own friends and associates. He said Corey's Crew will harness the volunteers' energy for a new purpose.

Among the newcomers is crew member Joe Divack, a Squirrel Hill resident who said he offered his time for "quick response constituent services."

Mr. Divack said he would like to solve small problems that the city bureaucracy has little time to address or isn't responsible for handling -- such as removing a tree limb that falls across an elderly resident's driveway. He has done a handful of jobs so far, such as helping to remove litter and other debris from a Hazelwood sidewalk.

"It's refreshing to work in a way that is so direct and so immediately helpful to people," Mr. Divack said. "That's something I find satisfying."

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority has been assailed for chronic flooding in East End neighborhoods. Damon Andrews, who managed Mr. O'Connor's campaign and now is a city-paid consultant in the councilman's office, said crew members could help reduce flooding by keeping catch basins free of leaves and other debris.

Mr. Andrews said crew members also could help residents clean up after storms, tutor students in city schools or find other ways to put their expertise to work for neighbors.

Mr. Ravenstahl a year ago launched his own volunteering initiative, ServePGH, which encourages residents to adopt "redd-up zones," clean up vacant lots, mentor city school students and help senior citizens during winter storms. Mr. O'Connor said he wanted a volunteerism campaign focusing on his council district.

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Joe Smydo: jsmydo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1548.


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