News and Updates

November 4, 2014

Get to Know Your Neighbors: Spotlight on the Hollygrove Blight Team

by Laura A. Mellem, Neighborhood Liaison
Filed under: blight, capacity building, neighborhood spotlight

(Hollygrove Blight Team in order left to right, back row: Mary Shaw, Evelyn Turner, Carol Dotson, Ruth Woods, Felecia Porée, Sandra Branch, Renette D. Golden; front row: Duane Guidney, Ruth Kennedy, Lydia Cutrer, Joyce Soulé)

Concluding our conversation on the work of the Hollygrove Blight Team, Ruth Kennedy said to me, "We could write books answering your questions, but I hope these thoughts will help."  We at the Neighborhood Engagement Office are continually impressed with the hard work, creativity, and civic commitment of our community leaders, and we hope that sharing the experiences of some of our leaders can help inspire others across our city.  Below is detailed information about the projects the Hollygrove Blight Team has completed this year.


Hollygrove's Super Cleanup Projects

While the Hollygrove Blight Team is pushing problem properties through the Code Enforcement process--which can send them to demolition, to code lien foreclosure, or back into compliance--they have also come up with other creative measures to improve the quality of life in their community.  After Joyce Soulé and Ruth Woods attended a seminar and learned about the Neighborhood Capacity-Building Initiative (NCBI) grant from the Neighborhood Engagement Office, the Hollygrove Blight Team decided to apply for funds to clean up their community.  With the money, the team was able to host a Dumpster Day, a Super Cleanup, a Spruce Up Your Block Day, a Blight Seminar, and a Tire Roundup. 

Dumpster Day

The group rented two construction dumpsters and asked Hollygrove residents to dump their debris at no cost and with no questions asked--this was "Dumpster Day," and it was a huge success.

Super Cleanup

On the day of the Super Cleanup, the team and other neighborhood volunteers tackled high grass and debris in strategic parts of their community like overgrown corner lots and blocked sidewalks.  They have some great before and after photos featured above. 

Spruce Up Your Block

These first two projects focused on cleaning up overgrown grass and debris across the Hollygrove neighborhood, but the Blight Team also wanted to use their momentum to create areas of concentrated curb appeal.  So, they did a series of "Spruce Up Your Block" projects, ranging from exterior painting and landscaping to mowing and gutter-cleaning, concentrated on one or two blocks. 

Blight Seminar

During each of these projects, with team members out-and-about in the neighborhood, other residents began to get involved.  To catch everyone up to speed on the City's blight abatement processes and tools available to residents, the Blight Team hosted a Blight Seminar.  Speakers at the seminar included Alex Miller, who presented different online tools to find out details about a property and its owner, Laura Tuggle, who spoke about tenants' rights in deteriorating structures, and Tilman Hardy, who presented his experience in acquiring and redeveloping a blighted property for community use.

Lessons Learned in Hollygrove

The women and men of the Hollygrove Blight Team have worked hard to get where they are today, but they know there's a long road ahead.  When I asked about roadblocks they faced and advice they would give to other neighborhood leaders fighting blight, they suggested the following:

Get Residents Involved, in Multiple Capacities

Carol Dotson explained, "Everyone has something to contribute.  If someone can't pick up trash, they can certainly make follow up phone calls, maybe attend city meetings as a representative or serve as a block captain.  Usually it will be a small group of committed volunteers who are there for everything, but don't discount the one-timers.  We need everyone's input to make things happen and who knows, those 'one-timers' may end up being repeaters!"

Leverage Funds and Resources

One of the greatest successes of the Hollygrove Blight Team has been their ability to leverage funding and resources throughout their efforts.  Ruth Kennedy explained that whenever possible, the Blight Team solicited in-kind donations and discounts from local business for materials and supplies for their many projects.  Items like water, power-aid, donuts, and milk were donated by local business for volunteers during the Super Cleanup Day--donations that, as Felecia Poree pointed out, "helped us to stretch our dollars."

Be Strategic

All members of the Hollygrove Blight Team continually talked about their strategy, an important tool for organizing around such a pervasive issue.  Lydia Cutrer explained the group's current strategy:

1. Regular clean up of vacant lots by cutting grass and picking up trash
2. Educating residents about reporting blight
3. Reporting persistently blighted properties to our Councilperson
4. Planning a focused blight reduction strategy to begin with a neighborhood-wide property condition survey.

If you'd like to nominate a neighbor for an upcoming Get to Know Your Neighbor spotlight, email me at