Richmond focuses “Love Your Block” grant to develop North Richmond and Parchester neighborhoods

Richmond got a boost after it was named one of seven United States cities selected by Cities of Service’s new “City Hall AmeriCorps VISTA Love Your Block” program for a three-year, $30,000 grant to improve and develop neighborhoods.

Cities of Service is a national non-profit was founded by Michael R. Bloomberg, founder of the media company Bloomberg LP and former mayor of New York City. The nonprofit assists a coalition of 205 cities in the U.S. and United Kingdom in developing “high-impact volunteering initiatives” within communities.

Richmond is “a leader in impact volunteering in California,” said Cities of Service External Affairs Director Barbara Chen. She said it is one of the strongest partners of Cities of Service. Other cities awarded grants were Birmingham, AL, Boston, MA, Lansing, MI., Las Vegas, NV, Phoenix, AZ, and Seattle, WA.

The grant opportunity was “a good fit” for Richmond neighborhoods needing support, Mayor Tom Butt said in a statement. Data from City Code Enforcement Unit, which preserves physical, social and economic health of neighborhoods, were considered in making the effort, Butt said.

The North Richmond and Parchester neighborhoods were chosen to kick off this initiative. The two neighborhoods are “serving public housing residents and multi-generational families living below the city’s median income level,” according to the city’s grant application.

“Man, it’s a big deal!” said Rita Johnson, Parchester Village Neighborhood Council President. She said that it is good to know that Parchester is “on the mind” of the mayor and city executives. Representatives from both neighborhoods said that they were surprised that their neighborhoods were the focus of the grant application.

Parchester Village, a community of multi-generational families, just built its neighborhood park last October 2014 with volunteering efforts from residents and other neighborhood councils. Johnson said that Parchester has been “more visible” in upgrading and updating their neighborhood in the last five years.

Although there are no talks yet on specific plans, she said that Parchester’s current goal is to improve lighting along Giant Road and Collins Avenue to increase safety and security of residents.

Cities of Service will administer the grant program, which include dedicated AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service to America (VISTA) support in each city, said Chen.  It is supported by Corporation for National and Community Service, a federal agency that engages millions of Americans in service initiative programs, such as AmeriCorps.

Chen said that there is an assigned Cities of Service program officer to each city liaison. The grant administration, she said, includes personalized technical assistance and checks in, site visits and training opportunities and access to cities that have successfully implemented “Love Your Block” programs.

With Richmond’s Chief Service Officer, Rochelle Monk, Butt said that their “collaborative engagement and planning process will take four to six months” and will begin in late spring.

As part of the Love Your Block” blueprint, Butt said that the city is “already actively seeking external funding to build a robust campaign and program.” Such additional funding would allow Richmond to extend the program to other high-need Richmond communities through a competitive process and award mini-grants for those projects since the grant is good for three years.

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