- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

Hundreds of volunteers, residents and religious leaders from around the District rolled up their sleeves to exercise faith over fear at Benning Terrace yesterday.

Armed with rakes, mops, shovels and boxes of pink, white and lavender impatiens, they spruced up the crime-ridden, violence-plagued community in Southeast.

They hauled away trash, repainted walls, swept and mopped hallways, and planted flowers in the “Lift Your Own Boat” beautification project, the first of 10 such events scheduled for throughout the city. The daylong cleanup was sponsored by the D.C. Department of Human Services and the department’s Faith-Based Partnership & Advisory Board.

“The groundswell of support has just been tremendous today,” said the Rev. Delric Pollins of Greater Word Church in Northeast. “To be able to break down barriers that divide us and unite under one common goal, which is to lift the spirits of District residents, is a phenomenal accomplishment.”

More than 500 volunteers — mostly from local churches — took part in yesterday’s face lift, encouraging residents to join in and take charge of their neighborhoods.

Benning Terrace resident Michelle Wall couldn’t help but smile as a group of Mormon volunteers from the North Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, based in Gaithersburg, planted a flower border in her back yard.

“I love this. I’m ecstatic. And, I’m so glad to see the community come together for this cleanup. Most importantly, I’m happy to see the children participating in this effort,” said Ms. Wall, a building captain of her nine-unit apartment block.

“The children’s participation gives them ownership since they helped clean up during this project. I think they will begin now to pick up trash because they’re proud of what they’ve done here today,” she said.

Trevor Brisk, 20, didn’t notice the beaming Ms. Wall because he was busy digging holes for her flowers.

“I’ve had a truckload of fun just because I was able to brighten the residents’ day and help beautify their homes,” the young Mormon said.

Mr. Brisk and his crew removed trash, mowed lawns and covered graffiti with fresh paint before they started digging holes for flowering plants and shrubbery.

Music echoed throughout the area, thanks to the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation.

Volunteers fanned out — some with wheelbarrows full of mulch, some with mops and buckets to clean the entrances of 21 buildings. Others planted a medley of flowers, shrubbery and ornamental grasses that had been donated by various nurseries and the National Arboretum.

Other volunteers painted benches and replaced light bulbs, while the Department of Public Works towed away abandoned cars.

“We have partnered with the faith-based community to tremendously increase our outreach efforts,” said Yvonne Gilchrist, director of the Department of Human Services.

“The plan is to set this up as a model in Benning Terrace and a few other communities, and then take this model of faith-based and government approach to other troubled areas of Washington, D.C.,” Ms. Gilchrist said.

The Rev. Henry Gaston of Johnson Memorial Baptist Church in Southeast yesterday offered a hand with 15 volunteers from his congregation.

“In the past, we’ve had special events. Now, we want more than one day. We want to stay with the community and [its residents] so they take pride in their neighborhood. And they will see that the [D.C.] government and the churches really care,” Mr. Gaston said.


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