UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY AREA — In neighborhood after neighborhood, clusters of volunteers convened to pay forward their good fortunes in life to residents whose lives contain few.
The University Area Community Development Corporation’s recent fourth annual Paint the Town event drew close to 400 people — children, young and middle-aged adults, and seniors alike from a variety of groups including schools, churches, community theatre organizations and University Village, an assisted living community.
They came to paint, lay sod, do some landscaping, remove litter, repair fences and more in an area surrounding the University of South Florida, where close to 95 percent of residents live below the poverty level.
“Today is a really important day, with community members making an investment in this community,” said UACDC CEO/Director Sarah Combs. “Hopefully this will entice them to come back and help with other projects throughout the year.”
Mort Elementary School, the Golden Glade and Golden Palm apartment complexes, Temple Park, UACDC’s Community Garden/Harvest Hope Center/Tilapia Fish Pond site, and the University Area Community Center, a multi-use complex that provides a host of services to nearby neighbors, were among the places that reaped the fruits of their labor.
Representatives from the New Tampa Players and the DeArmon Creative Arts School and Theatre joined forces to clean up the backstage area of the stage inside the University Area Community Center that had become cluttered with assorted props, costumes and equipment accumulated from the multitude of performances at the complex, including the two theatrical groups’ productions.
“You could barely walk back here, so it’s nice to help clean things out,” said Kym Derrault, CAST’s managing director.
Nora Paine, director of production for the New Tampa Players, agreed.
“It was a mess, so we’re happy to help out and it makes for a good relationship with the UACDC, who we’ve had a partnership with since 2006,” said Paine, who noted that in addition to helping de-clutter the backstage area, they also swept and mopped the stage.
A few blocks away, workers were busy painting a mural on a side wall of the Harvest Hope Center with a colorful scene of fruits with vegetables that, when completed, will have the Spanish words Esperanza and Unidad imprinted on it, depicting a wish for hope and unity between residents and the UACDC toward a more stable and prosperous community.
“We thought that was important because there are many Spanish- speaking people in the neighborhood,” Combs said.
Mike Trepper, director of UACDC’s Prodigy cultural arts program for at-risk youth ages 7 – 17, looked on as several Prodigy members voluntarily used their creative skills in crafting the wall’s painting.
“It’s a great opportunity for the kids to work together, and it brings out the artist in all of them,” he said.
Jayson, a 15-year-old Prodigy participant, was busy on the sidelines sketching various elements to be used in the art piece. One was of a man cutting up vegetables in the Harvest Hope kitchen that were picked from the Community Garden.
“It means a lot to me to be able to help the community and have fun at the same time,” he said.
Twelve-year-old Larisha, who also is in the UACDC’s Prodigy program, shared similar thoughts.
“This project means helping the community and because we’re working together on this mural, it makes it fun,” she said.
Nearby, a trio of USF’s Delta Tau Lambda sorority sisters were busy planting blueberry bushes in the Community Garden.
“Part of what we do is participate in community service and we’re glad to help out in this garden of organically-grown fruits and vegetables,” said spokeswoman Hope Lloyd. “We’re going to start coming here more often.”
In a neighborhood not far away, another team of volunteers, including a host of helpers from the USF Section of the National Council of Negro Women and some employees from All Covered, gathered to clean up the yard and pressure wash the home of Earl Fox.
Sixty-seven-year-old Fox, who is legally blind due to optic nerve damage, was on the verge of being cited by Tampa’s code enforcement board due to the unsightly condition of his home and property.
“I got behind,” he said. “It means a lot in that finally I can start over again,” said Fox, who noted because of his eye condition he should only be outside after sundown.
National Council of Negro Women sorority member Monica Watkins, a USF student, said her organization also is big on helping out in the community.
“You could barely tell the house was white when we arrived and the yard was filled with weeds that had grown up to the bottom part of the windows on the house,” she said
All Covered Director of Service Delivery Steve Shaw said the UACDC is a client, and it was only right to get involved in the organization’s annual community cleanup effort.
“It think it’s important to give back — it just makes sense,” Shaw said.
Joyce McKenzie can be reached at [email protected]