While the University Park Alliance continues to struggle, the Neighborhood Network, an offshoot of UPA, is thriving.
Neighborhood Network recently received two grants totaling $35,000 from the United Way, they created a new logo and mission statement, and there are plans to hire a director to lead the group’s efforts.
The umbrella group — which brings together residents, faith and business leaders, and residents who live or work in the area surrounding the University of Akron — has applied for several other grants and is hoping to amass $100,000 in grant funding by the end of the year.
“There’s big stuff going on,” Ron Shultz, one of the Neighborhood Network leaders and pastor of Family of Faith United Methodist Church in Akron, said Wednesday night during a meeting at a community garden on Adolph Street that about 50 people attended.
Shultz and others involved with the group say they are pleased to see it rebound, especially after the confusion caused by the problems with UPA that many erroneously thought applied to the Neighborhood Network.
UPA has been in turmoil since its executive director left, the group lost its major funding source and several lawsuits were filed related to the nonprofit organization’s redevelopment efforts.
Left in the lurch, the Neighborhood Network broke off on its own and received assistance from the United Way, which gave the group a $30,000 grant last year and agreed to serve as its fiscal agent. The group used the money to pay for guidance from Round River Consulting and to help seek additional funding.
The United Way recently awarded the group grants of $10,000 and $25,000 to help with two efforts — community building, which is providing a safe and friendly place for the community to come together, and urban gardening.
Shultz said the Wednesday meeting at the Adolph community garden — a first for the group — met both goals. The meeting included a potluck with some dishes featuring food grown in the Adolph garden.
He said the group would like to create a system of community gardens in the area, helping to connect resources and start a farmers market with food grown in the gardens.
The partnership, he said, could potentially create jobs for local residents.
During the meeting, representatives of different neighborhoods within University Park, a 50-block area around UA, gave their reports. The news included: six families starting a community garden in the Mason Avenue area, two dilapidated houses being torn down in the Upson and Jewett streets area, and a seventh garden plot being planted in the Kling Street community garden.
“Somebody took all of our chairs,” complained Barb Myers, who started the Kling Street garden, speaking of chairs in a picnic area nearby.
Pastor Mark Ford of Love Akron said a blessing before residents dug into tables crammed with food and drinks.
“Something good is happening in the University Park area and it has just begun,” he said.
That is what Shultz and other leaders are hoping. To help the group continue to move forward, he said there are plans to hire someone to head its fledgling effort. This person will be the group’s “eyes, ears and feet,” attend the different block watch meetings, “identify assets and issues and bring them back to us.”
The Adolph community garden was started in 2011 by Cheryl Schmidt of NEOhaus Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes green building and environmentally sensitive living. She also helped sprout a community garden at Mason Park Community Learning Center.
The Adolph garden originally had 30 plots and this year has grown into 41. A shed was built beside the garden last year and rain barrels were added this year. The people who garden keep the food, though several plots are considered communal, so any of the gardeners may enjoy the bounty.
Schmidt said she was pleased that the network’s meeting highlighted the Adolph garden.
“I think there’s not enough of it,” she said of community gardens. “People drive by not knowing what’s going on.”
Those involved in the network are pleased by the progress and hopeful for the future.
“We’re seeing a lot more people who live in the community take a leadership role,” said Rex Roseman, who has been active in the University Park area since 2000.
Sue Schaad, whose house is on East Buchtel Avenue and who has lived in the area for 30 years, said the network began with she and Shultz writing down the addresses of blighted houses and passing them on to the city.
“This is really organized,” she said of the group’s present state. “We have a really good group of people who care.”
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith and on Facebook: www.facebook.com/swarsmith. Read the Beacon Journal’s political blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/ohio-politics.