- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - The Neighborhood Resources Corp. in partnership with artist Chris Stackowicz of cstackstudios is seeking sponsors and volunteers to help with a project aimed at addressing blight in the city’s neighborhoods.

“Spring Forward” would enlist artists and other volunteers to paint sheets of plywood that would then be used to secure between 300 and 500 such homes in the city. The sheets would display false windows or doors, curtains, flower boxes and/or other appropriate details, the South Bend Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1cpor19 ).

Stackowicz and the NRC currently are working with neighborhood organizations to identify homes for inclusion in the program and to recruit sponsors and volunteers, including preppers, painters and installers, Stackowicz said.

Sponsors are asked to contribute $500 per house, he said, with the money going to pay for supplies and to support the program, the volunteers, the NRC and the participating neighborhood organizations.

The NRC is looking for between 300 and 500 sponsors and upward of 1,000 volunteers, NRC Director Diana Hess said. Interested parties are encouraged to visit the group’s Facebook page (www.facebook.com/springforwardsb) or email springforward14@gmail.com.

Similar programs in other cities, including Baltimore and Cincinnati, have contributed to a drop in vandalism and other crime and less blight near participating properties, Stackowicz, who led the effort to paint the Indiana 933 Bridge, said.

“So neighbors, once they actually see this go up in their neighborhood, sort of rally around it,” he said.

Which is the point, Hess said.

“The whole role of getting neighborhood people engaged in the process is important to us, because our role here is to build leaders in the community and in South Bend neighborhoods,” she said.

The work would be conducted the weekend of March 8-10, the beginning of daylight saving time — thus the name, “Spring Forward” — with preparation Friday followed by painting Saturday and installation Sunday, Hess said.

Volunteers would operate under the state’s Good Samaritan Law, which allows a non-owner to lock or board an entry to a home that has been abandoned, remove trash from the yard and mow the lawn, she said.

No experience is required.

“You don’t have to be a professional,” Stackowicz said. “Trained volunteers and staff will be there every step of the way to help people out.”

Though not involved, the city supports the project, Mayor Pete Buttigieg said in a statement.

Currently, there are more than 1,000 vacant and abandoned homes in the city, including more than 500 west of Main Street downtown, according to information provided by the mayor’s office.

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