July 17, 2013
Church Lends Hand to West Rockford Neighborhood
By Audrey Carpenter, Rock River Times
ROCKFORD — It started three years ago when a member of Rock Church’s congregation came to the leadership of the church and asked if the church could help in a clean-up of his neighborhood.
Federal Weed and Seed program dollars were being distributed during that time throughout Rockford. The funds are given to help clean up, plant and seed neighborhood areas in need of beautification. But the area that was in need the most was just outside the federal government’s designated district for funding, and as a result, they could not receive funds for a beautification project.
The area, about six blocks of Blaisdell Street in District 11 in west Rockford, is one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. Jim DeVoe, resident of the Ellis Heights neighborhood and president of the West Gateway Coalition, was the one who approached the church.
Several homes in the six-block stretch are abandoned. Alleys were overgrown and had mounds of bulk garbage in them, such as tires. Trees and shrubs needed trimming, sidewalks were covered with dirt and weeds, trash was abundant, and grass needed cutting. Most importantly, people had lost pride in home ownership.
“Residents told us, if we could have a line of sight down our street, we would feel safer,” Rock Church Assistant Pastor Jared Katke said. “Through this, we’ve helped neighbors get to know neighbors again.”
The church started the mission primarily as a youth group project. Each year, the project, called “Project 1013,” has grown. In late June, the church was at the neighborhood for the third consecutive year, and had an average of 70 people a day helping for four days straight from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Some congregants even took a personal holiday off work to volunteer.
This year, they helped 80 homes and cleaned up three alleyways from Avon Street to Central Avenue.
“We were particularly pleased with how the alleys turned out, because when we started, you couldn’t even drive down them,” Katke said. There was also a particular house he personally made a commitment to get cleaned up because it had dozens of abandoned tires in the front yard. He made the city aware of the problem, and now the yard is free of tires.
The city supplied three trash bins and hauled away 15 loads of trash, Katke said. From the brush and tree removal, the city was able to recycle that into mulch.
“It’s called Project 1013 because we believe in Matthew 10:13 in the Bible, which says, ‘If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it is not, let your peace return to you,’” Katke said. “Our goal is to bring peace into a place of great need.”
Asked if the church would branch out and clean up other areas of the city in the future, Katke said for right now, the church’s goal is to continue working the Blaisdell area. They are discussing going back in the fall for a “maintenance day” of clean-up, he said.
The church opened each day of clean-up with prayer and breakfast. Then, it was down to business. Along the way, owners and tenants came out and spoke to the volunteers and helped in the clean-up.
“We are there to clean, yes, but it’s also important to put down your rake or broom and have conversation with the residents who live there,” Katke said. “Our goal is to support, encourage, help and uplift. We know people there by name now. Pride has come back into the community.”
There was a barbecue and ice cream social sponsored by the Rockford Housing Authority at the end of the project, and about 30 “baskets of blessings” were handed out to residents, filled with household items, hygiene products and homemade items.
A youth group from Wisconsin came and helped this year, and even those individuals working off community service requirements helped. “I was touched to see a young man who had fulfilled his community service requirement come back and continue helping, even when he had fulfilled the hours he needed,” Katke said.
Rock Church is at 6732 Harrison Avenue in Rockford, and can be reached at (815) 229-7600.
©2020 Houses of Hope dba Project 1013. All rights reserved.