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Love Your Block unites Duluth volunteers for neighborhood betterment

In its first year, the program awarded $17,400 to groups in the Lincoln Park and Central Hillside neighborhoods to address blight and empower the communities.

Outdoor community garden space
Lincoln Park Duluth program coordinator JhonRae Reeves, of Duluth, sits in the pumpkin patch at the Freedom Farms garden Sept. 21, in Lincoln Park.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Volunteers have come together by taking pride in small-scale, resident-led projects to address blight in the Lincoln Park and Central Hillside neighborhoods with support from the Love Your Block program.

This year's final round of mini-grants was awarded in August. With the program halfway through its two-year span, $17,400 in grant funds was awarded in three rounds to 13 applicants.

"Residents and city staff focused resources on cleaning up public and private spaces; adding garden beds to gathering spaces; repairing fences and steps; resurfacing a playground; painting murals; and encouraging neighbors to envision the future together. Additionally, communication and collaboration has occurred in new ways across city divisions, between neighbors, and among nonprofit organizations," according to the city of Duluth's website.

Eligible projects included trash removal; repair of structures; planting or removing vegetation; installing public art; and activating vacant lots for community benefit.

Duluth is one of eight cities nationally to receive two years of funding, training and mentoring from the Johns Hopkins-based center. Funded by the Bloomberg Philanthropies Center for Innovation, the Love Your Block model encourages innovation and experimentation to reduce blight through resident and government partnership with grants up to $1,500 each.

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A grant selection committee made up of Lincoln Park and Central Hillside residents reviewed the applications and recommended awards. The Love Your Block team also reviewed applications to identify ways that city services, community organizations and individuals could further support the success of proposed activities.

"It is a great program that is devoted to supporting community members in addressing blight and improving their common spaces," said Annika Frazer, AmeriCorps VISTA member. "I think this program is really beautiful because it helps residents do awesome work that benefits the community, rather than waiting for it to be done. It definitely shows that with a little bit of support, our community can do really amazing things."

Lincoln Park Community Garden

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Volunteers have restored the formerly vacant lot at 2832 W. Third St., Duluth, by planting crops, installing fencing, reconstructing the adjacent sidewalk and building sheds and shelves for people to access food year-round.
Contributed / JhonRae Reeves
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The Freedom Farm garden was awarded $1,500 from the 2022 Love Your Block mini-grant program.
Contributed / JhonRae Reeves

Cleanup of the formerly vacant lot at 2832 W. Third St. began years ago in efforts to stop illegal activity, trash dumping and loitering around the property. With support from the Love Your Block grant funding, volunteers have restored it into a welcoming environment for all by planting crops, installing fencing, reconstructing the adjacent sidewalk and building sheds and shelves for people to access food year-round.

The Lincoln Park Community Garden is designed to promote social health and encourage community relationship building while improving access to nutritional food, said program coordinator JhonRae Reeves of the Lincoln Park Duluth organization.

"Our hope is that we make this a community safe environment for everyone while enjoying the perks of the community garden. The garden program is about providing a beautiful and welcoming space for people to access free food in the Lincoln Park community," Reeves said.

A grand opening was held Sept. 24.

Cascade Park neighborhood cleanup

Cascade Park located at West Sixth Street and First Avenue West is one of Duluth’s oldest parks. It was formerly known as Cascade Square when originally platted as a 4-acre plot for public use in the 1850s, and Clarkhouse Creek ran through its center. It saw improvements in 1895, including a stone-lined channel to contain Clarkhouse Creek and a cascading waterfall, in addition to a large covered pavilion, walkways, benches and landscaping.

In the following years, storms wreaked havoc on Cascade Square. Maintenance became costly. As automobiles became increasingly more accessible, people began visiting various nearby parks and Cascade Square became low priority on the city budget.

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Cascade Park in Central Hillside overlooks Duluth on a recent rainy day.
Contributed / Richard Thomas

When it reached a century old, the square’s remaining structures were torn down and channel of Clarkhouse Creek covered, and the western half of the park became Mesaba Avenue. Following the flood in 1972, the city installed walkways and picnic tables as part of the park's restoration.

Mesaba Avenue was widened, claiming more of the space. The sandstone foundation and portions of the rock wall supporting Mesaba Avenue still remain from the original structures.

Although Cascade Park's unique landscape, history and view of Lake Superior continue to be enjoyed by residents and visitors alike, it has seen many years of neglect and residents have advocated tirelessly to see improvements.

"The grants give residents a way to make small, impactful change in their neighborhoods and help foster connection in our communities," said resident Rachael Kilgour. "It is obvious that the city is lacking funding for some bigger projects and even the regular maintenance that our geography requires. That lack of funding, compounded by the slow process of city bureaucracy, leaves community members feeling pretty helpless and frustrated, especially in lower-income neighborhoods."

With $1,000 of Love Your Block funding, a group of community organizers in Central Hillside hosted a cleanup day Sept. 18 in the neighborhood surrounding Cascade Park. Afterward, volunteers gathered at the park for pizza and a community visioning session led by a local artist to identify future neighborhood goals.

"Our Central Hillside neighborhood is home to a broad spectrum of residents: families; elders living alone; homeowners and renters; college students; Black, Indigenous and people of color; and queer Duluthians; folks who rely on county assistance and those who run their own successful businesses," Kilgour said. "In a society that tends to segregate itself by class and culture, our diversity is a rare strength. We hope that our project will help foster connection and make way for future collaboration and progress in our neighborhood."

Hillside Full Moon Circle

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An ornament in spiritual elder Millie Richard's garden where Hillside Full Moon Circle ceremonies are held.
Contributed / Millie Richard
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Millie Richard.
Contributed / Millie Richard

The Odiizeoon organization plans to beautify resident Millie Richard's yard at 515 W. Fourth St. to create a safe meeting place for women who identify as First Nation and Anishinaabe/Ojibwe, enabling them to share their strength, hope and encouragement about the trials and tribulations faced while rebuilding their lives in recovery.

Richard has struggled with vandalism and theft ever since the fire-damaged property adjacent to her backyard became vacant.

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"Residents use to come and throw garbage in the backyard. Every time we piled things neatly up they came and tore it apart have it scattered all over the yard. Sometimes when we do our Hillside Full Moon Circle fire, someone comes and messes with the fire pit. We had our garden ornaments and garden art stolen," she said.

Richard identifies as a spiritual elder and is the founder, owner and director of Odiizeoon, the Ojibwe word for "a spiritual vision given to a person from the heavens to bring alive on Earth," she said.

As an Indiginous child growing up in Canada, Richard was removed from her family, community and tribe to be sold by the government to foster and adoptive homes. She said this resulted in a spirit wound called intergenerational trauma, or pathological grief. This experience is what led her to enter the mental health field to provide counseling and healing to others.

"I work to educate people on this condition, and some of the innovative and creative things you can do," Richard said. "I have other means and alternatives that I do with my tribal people, which is tribal ceremonies. When people start to hear the good work that is going on, even though I do tribal work here, I work with all peoples, including two-spirited people without judgment and criticism."

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Resident Millie Richard is repairing her front step and improving her gardens. In her backyard, Richard works with women who identify as First Nation and Anishinaabe/Ojibwe and offers her space for healing and community.
Contributed / Millie Richard

Each calendar full moon, the women's group meets in Richard's backyard for the Hillside Full Moon Circle ceremony. The next meeting is Oct. 9 from 7:30-9 p.m. Each meeting involves a prayer, an offering to the fire, a meal and social time.

"In our culture we have this purification ceremony to cleanse their emotional, spiritual, mental and physical selves to be more in tune with their bodies and get to know themselves better to discover their purpose and gift," Richard said.

Richard serves four recovered women through the ceremonies, but has met with over 20 women during the six years she's lived in the Hillside neighborhood. While the circle is centered toward working with culturally tribal individuals, she also works with others from various backgrounds in her practice.

Love Your Block grant recipients

The 2022 Love Your Block mini-grants were awarded in three rounds for the following projects:

$1,500 grant recipients

  • Family Freedom Center and Freedom Farms for the installation of a mural along Sixth Avenue East and fencing to reduce noise pollution and beautify the garden and program site at 500 E. 10th St.
  • Harbor Highlands and DW Jones Management Co. for improvement of playgrounds, flower planting and graffiti removal via a mural project in shared community spaces at Harbor Highlands.
  • A Central Hillside resident for tree removal and fence repair to improve function and curb appeal of property on a block of West Fifth Street.
  • Duluth Children’s Museum to turn a paved parking lot into a community gathering space that is safe, green and functional for all ages on Superior Street.
  • A Lincoln Park property owner for landscaping, yard maintenance and garbage removal to improve curb appeal and deter dumping of abandoned waste on a block of West Third Street.
  • Duluth Art Institute for invasive species removal and treatment to protect the integrity of the Lincoln Park location and limit spread into the neighborhood.
  • Kirsten Aune, a small business owner in Lincoln Park, for flower planters to add beauty and pollinator habitat to a block of 21st Avenue West.
  • Lincoln Park Resource Center and Charles Obije for the installation of a mural alongside a food and book Little Library at a community garden site on West Third Street.
  • Central Hillside resident Millie Richards for porch and front step repair of a West Fourth Street property, along with cleanup and landscaping of a community gathering space for people of American Indian and First Nations heritage in recovery.
Outdoor community garden space
The Freedom Farms garden seen Sept. 21, in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

$1,000 grant recipients

  • Spirit of God Lutheran Church for neighborhood cleanup along West Third Street and within Lincoln Park and a block party, including a meal and sharing of environmental stewardship information.
  • Central Hillside resident Rachael Kilgour for trash and abandoned waste cleanup in the neighborhood surrounding Cascade Park followed by picnic and community visioning session.

$950 grant recipients

  • Storey Taxidermy, James Hagstrom, for repair and replacement of broken windows and door to improve the look and prevent future damage.
  • First Ladies of the Hillside for original artwork applied via vinyl wrap on a needle dropbox in Central Hillside, outreach materials to raise awareness of addiction and needle exchange resources, and a neighborhood cleanup.

Residents interested in volunteering at a project site are encouraged to contact Annika Frazer, Love Your Block AmeriCorps VISTA, at afrazer@duluthmn.gov or 218-390-5415. Learn more at duluthmn.gov/love-your-block .

Outdoor community garden space
Program coordinator JhonRae Reeves, of Duluth, picks tomatoes at the Freedom Farms garden Sept. 21.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Brielle Bredsten is the business reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.

She earned a bachelor's degree in Professional Writing & Technical Communication, with minors in Advertising and Creative Writing from Metropolitan State University, in addition to a two-year professional paid internship as reporter/editor of the student newspaper.

She is an award-winning professional writer, photographer and editor based in rural Minnesota. Over the past decade, Brielle Bredsten has contributed more than 1,000 articles, feature stories, non-profit press-releases, photographs and columns. Her work has been published in several community newspapers.

Send her story tips, feedback or just say hi at bbredsten@duluthnews.com.
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