FLINT, Michigan — It’s about beautifying our streets — and also just being neighborly, says Megan Heyza, who launched an effort that this summer helped to rehabilitate and beautify 37 homes on Flint’s eastside.
It all started simply enough. Heyza made some repairs and spruced up her own front porch. “I realized how much people took notice, and neighbors would stop by and engage and talk to me about wanting to do the same thing,” she says.
That one small personal investment blossomed into what is technically called the Front Porch Initiative and Beautification Project (but is usually just called the Porch Project) and a new way “to bring neighbors together,” Heyza says.
Funded with a $7,000 grant from Chemical Bank, the Eastside Improvement Association worked with the Community Engagement Hub, homeowners, and volunteers to repair porches, install lights, plant flowers, put down mulch and, well, just be neighborly.
“It's not just about starting repairs. It is about talking to people on their front porches, where many local conversations used to start,” says Heyza.
The Porch Project started on the state streets on Flint’s eastside and then branched out four additional blocks, eventually stretching from Robert T. Longway Boulevard to Bell Avenue.
“It also changed my perception, because as we worked on more porches, more people came forward to help and wanted to take part, and kind of showed how connected this community still is,” Heyza says.
The funds by Chemical Bank were provided directly to homeowners to increase interaction with their neighbors “through increased use of their front yards.”
“Even on my block, all the kids now play together, and that's something we hadn’t seen before we began this project,” Heyza says.
The Eastside Improvement Association also is working with the University of Michigan-Flint to study the correlation between urban agriculture and the repopulation of local bees. Together, they hope to plant flowers at 50 more houses next year.
“The eastside is known for crime and blight, but that is changing when you bring people together,” Heyza says with a laugh and a sigh. “We can do so much for Flint, but I think people might not see that or tend to forget that when you connect the dots between people and organizations, neighbor-to-neighbor, you can really get a lot done here.”
Heyza estimates that the summer project included more than 1,200 of volunteer time. “We are rebuilding our neighborhood one home at a time and are making friends along the way. I love the work we are doing for the residents of Flint,” said Heyza.
For more information, visit the Eastside Improvement Association Facebook page
or contact Megan Heyza at 810-228-9673 and firstname.lastname@example.org