Slice of Life

Block Blitz went from planting trees to helping revitalize an entire block of homes

Courtesy of Home HeadQuarters

Since Block Blitz started five years ago, the one-day charity event has upgraded almost 240 properties in high-need neighborhoods.

All over, Syracuse volunteers are getting ready to roll up their sleeves, break out their tools and head down to the South Side for Home HeadQuarters’ annual Block Blitz.

“We were thinking, what could we do to bring ourselves more into the neighborhoods we work with?” said Karen Schroeder, the chief communications officer at Home HeadQuarters.

The local nonprofit aims to create housing development opportunities for residents of central New York.

Block Blitz brings together students, businesses, church groups and other local organizations to work with neighborhoods around Syracuse. Projects include everything from painting mailboxes to repaving driveways. Over the last several years, volunteers have touched up more than 200 properties in high-need communities. Neighborhoods are chosen based on owner occupancy and how feasible the community projects are.

The event came into being 11 years ago with just 15 volunteers planting trees in three locations around Syracuse.

“We couldn’t even get a shovel in the ground,” laughs Schroeder as she recalls that initial project. “It must have been 90 degrees, we had to use a sledgehammer … I think we only planted one tree that year.” Needless to say, Block Blitz has come a long way.

Rain or shine, hot or cold, hundreds of volunteers will come together on Thursday to develop the 200 blocks of W Borden and W Beard avenues on Syracuse’s Southside.

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Courtesy of Home HeadQuarters

Home HeadQuarters has worked closely with South Side Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today, a charitable organization that works to make Syracuse an overall better place to live. In addition to community beautification, TNT promotes education, family life and employment opportunities. Syracuse residents are getting involved with the organization at exponential rates, and progress has been made over the last two years.

“People are noticing the things we’re doing, even if it’s just bringing people together, taking pride in where we live and teaching the history of our community,” said Patrona Jones-Rowser, a member of the South Side TNT Beautification Task Force. “We have suffered for many year blighted property … (but) we’re changing the narrative of the South Side. It’s not just a place where bad things happen.”

Block Blitz is a slice of the larger community revitalization picture. More than just home improvement projects, the event is at the intersection of classroom curriculum and real world experience.

“It’s important for students to understand the needs of the community,” said Seyeon Lee, Syracuse University’s School of Design professor.

Lee, who teaches environmental and interior design at the College of Visual and Performing Arts, will bring all her fourth-year design students to Block Blitz, where they will be painting murals to cover windows of a vacant property.

And it’s not just college students who are taking advantage of the collaborative community project. Bill Sweeney, president of CORE Federal Credit Union, has organized to bring 70 students from local high schools to volunteer at Block Blitz. CORE Federal Credit Union supports teen financial literacy programs where students can learn all the implications of homeownership.

“(Block Blitz) really gives the students a look at a different community,” said Sweeney, who is also a member of Home HeadQuarters’ board of directors. “(And it’s) a real life look at home owning.”

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