Walkabout: High school student digs in, finds funds to help Homewood


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Most applicants for a Love Your Block grant want the money to improve their own neighborhoods. But Daniel Denlinger applied for a grant to improve Homewood, where many of his classmates live.

The 17-year-old from Oakmont, a senior at the Barack Obama Academy of International Studies in East Liberty, wanted to do something significant in his last year before college. On the Internet, he found information about the Love Your Block program. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl initiated the program last fall in collaboration with the Home Depot Foundation.

Ten applicants were chosen last fall to receive $500 gift cards to use at Home Depot. Ten more were chosen in the spring, when the foundation upped the reward to $1,000.

Twenty-one projects are being funded this fall, said Rebecca Delphia, the city's chief service officer.

Daniel's plan was to turn a vacant 4,687-square-foot lot at Collier and Race streets into a park. When it is completed, it will hold dozens of grasses and flowering perennials, new trees, a walkway of square pavers surrounded by gravel and possibly a bench. Daniel worked with the Save Race Street Committee on the design.

He and about 20 volunteers spent most of Monday, which was a school holiday, digging, raking, planting and mulching.

During a break from shoveling dirt, he said he was motivated "by things I take for granted, like going to a nice park. It's an experience a lot of my classmates don't know. Also, a lot of kids self-segregate, so I wanted to do something that would bring people together."

City crews earlier had cleared the lot of overgrowth that choked it for years, but there were lots of rocks and bricks to dig out. More than 20 years ago, three houses were razed on the site.

One huddle of youths with shovels uncovered an orange carpet that screamed the '70s. It was bolted in the earth by roots of trees that aren't there anymore.

Volunteer Jim Fitzroy had a rope. Others tied one end of it to the carpet and the other to the back of his pickup truck, and in two tries the carpet came out in ripped halves.

As two young boys tossed a football, volunteers lugged bags of mulch and planted grasses along a fence that borders the property of the Rev. William and Maxine Moore. The Moores let volunteers use their bathroom and accommodated a big lunch spread in their backyard.

Elwin Green, a member of the Save Race Street Committee, said the group "wants to do something with all the vacant lots around here." The lot the committee identified was procured because it is owned by the city. Commenting on Daniel's commitment, he said, "How many high school students would do something like this?"

As it turns out, Daniel is the first high school student to initiate and write a successful Love Your Block proposal.

Ms. Delphia said teenagers participate in Love Your Block events and other altruistic projects, "more than you might think. We see young people step up across the city doing everything from getting elementary-age students involved in a Redd-up Zone to kids who shovel snow" for elderly neighbors. In this round of Love Your Block projects, a large number aim to transform blight into green space, she said.

"We also have people rehabbing war memorials, building rain gardens and doing pop-up events."

Daniel gathered classmates, friends from his soccer team and people from his church -- St. John the Evangelist Anglican in Oakmont -- for the day of volunteering. Ashton Armstrong, the city's Love Your Block coordinator, also volunteered, and the city arranged for AmeriCorps youth to help as well.

The Love Your Block program will reward the most transformational project this year with another $2,000 "to further the impact," Ms. Delphia said. "In every case, the communities are highly invested in these projects."

neigh_city - intelligencer

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk.


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