Brownsville got spring-ready thanks to Rebuilding Together NYC (RTNYC), Brownsville Partnership, Brownsville Community Justice Center and local residents. Approximately 200 volunteers gathered on Saturday, April 28 for RTNYC's Spring Rebuilding Day which provided free home repairs for local families and upgrades of community spaces at the Brownsville and Tilden Houses and Van Dyke Park.
"One of the most effective and efficient ways to preserve affordable housing is to provide critical home repairs and upgrades to those in need," said RTNYC Executive Director Kimberly George. "Spring Rebuilding Day takes our work a step further -- together with local residents. Partnering with the people who live and work in the community is the best way to make the neighborhoods they know and love better, strong and safer places to live."
Volunteers who worked on various homes got their hands dirty with hanging drywall, completing masonry and mortar work, adding insulation to exterior walls, repairing and repainting walls and ceilings, cleaning up yards and removing any debris. A crew of electricians also volunteered their services to do critical electrical repairs as needed. Homeowner Lucille Moore, who has been living in her Brownsville home since the 1960s, was elated about the much-needed makeover of her house.
"I am happy to have all these people in my house. It is very nice for them wanting to help me," said Mrs. Moore.
Other cohorts of volunteers focused their efforts on various community projects at Van Dyke Park, and the Brownsville and Tilden Houses where they repainted basketball hoops and backboards, replaced missing and damaged bleacher sections, cleaned up and repaired playgrounds, as well as built community gardens. It was a true community effort, as happy residents shared.
"It was exciting to see the young people work. For them to actually be working and getting dirty," said Carolyn Cabbagestalk, vice president of the Brownsville Houses Tenant Association. "It was just a wonderful experience from start to finish. This is something the community can see that is going on, that is happening. It will hopefully get them more involved as residents within our community."
The Spring Rebuilding Day work is a continuation of neighborhood improvement and beautification projects which started in the fall with the Brownsville Partnership and their ongoing community initiative, Brownsville Lifting Up Brownsville. In preparation for the community event, the nonprofit sought the active input and guidance of the community, which took the lead in determining what projects it wanted to be realized.
"People are really excited to see improvements in their neighborhoods," said Layman Lee of the Brownsville Partnership. "Days like today bring attention to these public spaces and invite the residents to actively work on them, maintain and use them. Before it oftentimes may have felt like the space is not for them."
And initiatives like the Spring Rebuilding Day or Brownsville Lifting up Brownsville are more than "just" community events that beautify and repair public spaces. It is about "changing the narrative," as Lee emphasized.
"When you google Brownsville, oftentimes it talks about the negative things, the crime, the poverty in communities like Brownsville, "Lee said. "And that's a real shame because, aside from large organizations like Brownsville Partnership and Rebuilding Together NYC, there are also folks on the ground, grassroots organizations that are doing really great things to change their community that don't get highlighted all the time. But we want to highlight that change from within."
And the work is far from done. Brownsville Partnership and RTNYC will continue to join their efforts to lift Brownsville up. Toward the end of the year, pending on funding, RTNYC hopes to launch a pilot workforce development program that will train local residents in construction jobs.
"A workforce training program in construction would be an amazing opportunity for us, knowing that the mayor's plan includes thousands of units of affordable housing being built, a lot of which is happening around here," said Lee. "The program would allow us to connect local residents to the jobs that come with the construction of these housing projects."
Until the details hatched out and funds are secured, RT NYC will return with volunteers in the coming weeks to do the finishing touches to some of the projects. And coming fall, there will be certainly another Rebuilding Together Community Day.