Residents in the 400 block of Jucunda Street in the Knoxville neighborhood of the city of Pittsburgh gathered today in an open lot on their street to join Mayor Luke Ravenstahl in announcing an expansion of the Love Your Block campaign.
The campaign, begun last year, gives small grants to blocks throughout the city which have proposed ideas to spruce up the appearance of their streets.
In the first year, the city awarded grants of $500 to 20 projects impacting 50 blocks. The mayor today announced an expansion of the program for the next two years through a $130,000 donation from Home Depot, with grants from $500 to $1,000. The grants are awarded through gift cards to Home Depot. The project's goal is to award grants to 100 projects over two years.
In the first year, Home Depot chipped in $10,000 but all of the work was done by volunteers, and community groups raised an additional $8,500 dollars in donations.
Ravenstahl said the applications for this fall's cycle are now available.
"If you are a resident, a VFW, a veterans' organization, a block-watch group, a faith-based organization, if you're interested in the Love Your Block program, reach out to us and let us know," Ravenstahl said. "You're the experts. You live in the community, you know where the needs are and you're going to be the one who makes the greatest difference in the community."
Home Depot made the donation to the city as part of its own larger program to support the homes and families of veterans. Erika Putinsky, director of the Home Depot Foundation, was on hand to present a check to the city, praising the program for attempting to find and restore blocks with high concentrations of veterans.
Sharlae Ellison, who heads the 400 Jucunda Street block clean-up committee, said they will use one of the first round $500 grants to clean up an open lot and alleyway by putting up new fencing and gardens. She said her neighborhood first came together five years ago when they planned a block party and realized how much better the area could look. She thinks community projects can change the attitude of a neighborhood.
"I mean, we get a lot of bad press up here. We have a lot of things going on up here that the police have to be called for over in these communities," Ellison said. "But we feel that if we could get the kids to take pride in where they live at and really do that, that maybe that will curtail some of that activity."
Ellison said her block plans to apply for one of the $1,000 grants to do more work this fall.