Community advocates double grant amounts

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The city's Love Your Block program is going into its third spring with a doubling of grant amounts for neighborhood enhancement projects. Applicants whose projects are chosen will receive the value of $2,000. Two projects deemed most worthy will receive another $1,000 each.

The application deadline is Friday. Visit for the form.

Grantees will be announced March 17, and projects must be carried out between April 15 and June 30.

Since the city initiated the program in March 2011, 3,300 volunteers have taken on improvements to 290 blocks, collecting 37,000 pounds of litter, carving green spaces out of 197 lots and leveraging donations worth $160,000.

The Larimer Green Team has won grants for the past two years and rallied volunteers from its member organizations -- including the Kingsley Association -- and the Association of African-American Veterans of Western Pennsylvania, the Carnegie Mellon University School of Architecture, the Student Conservation Association and Allegheny CleanWays.

Juan Castellanos, community outreach specialist for the Kingsley Association, said that besides financial support to make a physical statement in the neighborhood, the grant provides "an opportunity for community building. We have groups coming in to help out bringing people of different backgrounds together. Overall, it's a fun activity."

Love Your Block grants come from the Home Depot Foundation as gift cards that pay for supplies and equipment; the city provides applicable services, such as light hauling and trash removal. Grants go mostly to clean-ups of lots and plantings, but they have supported a rain garden, a pop-up cafe and a litter patrol.

Preferred projects encourage volunteerism and are capable of being sustained after the grant period ends.

In Larimer, the 2012 grant paid for plantings at an intersection of Winslow and Winfield streets, which Carolyn Peeks, the Larimer Green Team's chair, said are maintained by a Boy Scout troop from the St. James AME Church.

Last year's planting on the median at East Liberty Boulevard and Frankstown Avenue will be maintained by green team members from the Kingsley Association, she said.

Ms. Peeks said the Winslow-Winfield lot takes up the former footprint of two houses and that Love Your Block activities transformed it into a garden from garbage and unkempt shrubs and weeds.

"Looking at the big picture, it has affected the neighbors," she said.

"They were very pleased that the lot was being taken care of. We want to do a rain garden on it as well, and maybe we will look at something like that for this year. We also are looking across the street at a plan to carry over to include two blocks."

Last year, Uptown Partners made use of a Love Your Block grant at the Tustin Street community garden and tot lot, bringing in students from Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh to work with neighborhood volunteers.

Siena Kane, program coordinator for Uptown Partners, said the lot had been vacant and filled with graffiti before the garden was established in 2010.

"We cleaned the site and added a fence and primed a wall for a mural," she said.

More than 150 cities have participated in Love Your Block. It grew out of the national Cities of Service initiative founded in 2009 by then-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to encourage citizen service.

It is supported in part by the Corporation for National and Community Service and AmeriCorps VISTA.

Diana Nelson Jones: or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at

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