The Adopt A Block program took its first step into into its initiative in the Child's Park neighborhood on St. Petersburg's south side on Tuesday night with a session designed to inform potential volunteers of services that could help change the face of a beleaguered neighborhood.
The program was created by the Dream Center in Los Angeles' South Central neighborhood and consists of volunteers from faith-based organizations going door to door to talk with residents, asking if they have any needs they aren't currently meeting; everything from home repairs to rides to the doctor.
The Florida wing of the Dream Center, in conjustion with the Juvenile Welfare Board, took this model into the Lealman neighborhood in unincorporated Pinellas County in late 2014, the first of five intended programs in Pinellas with the most poverty.
“There are 30,000 or so people in that area,” said Pastor Bill Losasso as he opened the event by describing the work done in Lealman. “There's no grocery stores, no services, half of the place doesn't have streetlights, sidewalks, none of that. In nine months we discovered things that surprised us. When we would see malnourished kids we would think of deadbeat or drug addicted parents. By going to their homes and knocking on doors every Saturday, we would find that it wasn't missing parents but instead something as simple as a missing stove.”
In front of about 30 potential volunteers at the Child's Park YMCA, Losasso and Steven Cleveland of the Florida Dream Center outlined the specifics of the initiative, explaining the roles volunteers would fill. These could include going door to door interacting with neighbors; labor such as mowing lawns, removing trash or painting houses; procuring donations for items such as stoves and water heaters requested by those in need or operating in a more organizational capacity. Every Saturday the Adopt A Block program intends to organize volunteers to fill these roles and gain a foothold in Child's Park.
“It takes people like you guys to make it work,” said Cleveland. “Three hours is not a lot of time to give on a Saturday once a month, or every other Saturday. It's not a big commitment. I haven't missed a Saturday yet. People asked me why we wanted to come to Childs Park. That's why. We have a vested interest.”
The Florida Dream Center will base the project from a foreclosed home it has purchased on 42nd St. and 24th Ave. South in the Child's Park area, first focusing on renovating it for a homeless family to move into in time for the holidays before expanding its scope and expanding a base locally in hopes of replicating the success it found in Lealman.
While the Adopt A Block program in Childs Park is in the earliest stages, Cleveland pointed out that in Lealman it began with only himself and Losasso and assured the crowd that by going out and encouraging participation from the community, growth is inevitable.
“We're not going to leave anyone out there, but we would like you to own this,” said Losasso. “We want it to be your project in your community. You get the volunteers, we'll have leaders who will help but we're not coming in saying we're going to do Childs Park. We'd like to help you do Child's Park. When we're in Lealman, it's nowhere near our church. It's so far away that we don't even invite people unless they ask. This isn't something to do to build yourself. This is something you do because Jesus said so.”