How beautification efforts bring generations together to improve Flint neighborhoods

FLINT, Michigan—The pride that runs through Flint is perhaps most strongly felt in its neighborhoods and the people who choose to build lives there.


During the month of May through mid-September, Deacon John Allen of Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle leads a volunteer group of five in cleanup projects from south Stewart Avenue to Hamilton and East Saginaw to Industrial Avenue. He’s been a group leader for the Land Bank’s Clean and Green program since 2004, and in 2019 his group maintained 102 properties, a huge leap from the properties it started with nearly 20 years ago.


“I enjoy keeping that neighborhood up, my church is in that neighborhood. We’re out there, talking to people still in the neighborhood, we get a good (progress) report from them, they tell us they appreciate the job we’re doing. That’s the best part, that love that we see,” said Allen.


Allen credits the program with more than just beautification; he says the cleanup effort has gotten abandoned houses re-boarded and torn down, overall helping to rid the neighborhood of crime.


“When we started there were so many abandoned houses and the dope people had taken up living and selling out of them. Once we started cleaning up and demo on the houses, the dope left,” Allen said.


According to The University of Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center, “Efforts to beautify vacant lots in the city of Flint have made neighborhoods more appealing but have also reduced assaults and violent crime by 40 percent.”


The Clean and Green program selects local groups like block clubs, neighborhood groups, and churches to maintain vacant lots held by the Land Bank. Each group, selected through a competitive application process, is responsible for maintaining at least 25 lots throughout the growing season.


Through the program, Flint residents can make their neighborhoods more welcoming through mowing, gardening, developing pocket parks, and additionally helping to bolster local volunteerism, especially for youth.


In 2019, 62 groups participated, totaling 1,249 people with young people making nearly half of participants in the program.


Dre’Shon Burt, 24, is the youngest leader in the Clean and Green program. In tandem with holding down two jobs, he has maintained 25 lots on the city’s north end, where he grew up and still lives today. His group has a total of six members including himself, made up of two adults and three teens from his neighborhood. Burt was already mowing a couple of empty lots by his home before officially joining the Clean and Green program in 2019.


“There are numerous young people involved in the program, but few leading the effort,” said Raynetta Speed, Clean and Green's community outreach coordinator. “[Burt’s] involvement piqued my interest so much, I decided to seriously look at all of our program participants and discovered that we had five generations involved in 2019.” That level of engagement was the first time ever in the history of the program.


Although groups are not directly paid for their work, upon the completion of jobs, every three weeks during the growing season each group receives a stipend for the properties they have been assigned. The stipend sums $20 per property maintained and allows for flexibility in how individual groups funds are used. Burt chose to use his group stipend towards compensating his volunteers.


“There was a couple young men that I knew from the neighborhood that needed jobs and through the Clean and Green program this can give them an opportunity to not only have a job but to get them to understand how important it is to take care of their neighborhood,” said Burt.


Burt says he’s always been one to take initiative and believes those are the people this program is built for — people already out there, making small changes within their neighborhood who when given that extra boost of support, can accomplish great things.


Applications for the Clean and Green Program are usually available in late January of each year and are required to be submitted by the end of February. Any nonprofit organizations, neighborhood groups, such as a block club or neighborhood associations, and churches are encouraged to apply.


For more information on Clean & Green contact Raynetta Speed, by phone at 810-257-3088 ext.536 or by email at [email protected]


Read more articles by Ashley Schafer.