Fresno neighborhood gets much-needed makeover

The Fresno BeeJuly 9, 2014 

Lawn chairs, ladders, paint buckets and work trucks are out in force on Almy Street, part of the makeover this week of the southwest Fresno neighborhood.

Starting on Tuesday, a group of youth volunteers from around the country called World Changers teamed up with the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. They are refurbishing homes and other buildings in the neglected neighborhood, and aim to finish by Saturday.

"We are so excited to see this happening," said Alicia Chezick, a mother of three who has lived in the working-class neighborhood for more than 10 years. "They might even get a new roof on here, which we've been needing for a while."

Chezick said the many families living in the neighborhood will welcome improvements.

"Almost everyone in this area has little kids," Chezick said. "You can't have kids playing on a street that looks like this. They can't even ride their bikes."

Chezick believes neighborhoods like hers are easily forgotten. The northern expansion of Fresno over the years has left areas like Almy Street desolate.

"Just because we're an older neighborhood doesn't mean we're not still here," Chezick said. "It's nice to be getting some attention."

Cary Catalano, director of development for the local Habitat for Humanity branch, said the project is about more than fixing buildings.

"It's about creating hope," Catalano said. "That's what the American dream is all about."

A Fresno local himself, Catalano has been a part of Habitat for Humanity for more than a decade. His business helps nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity by fund-raising and writing grants.

Thanks to a partnership with national hardware retailer Lowe's, Habitat for Humanity will have enough funds to improve the houses, the Sweet Harvest Church and the Mary Ella Brown Community Center.

John Metcalf, a Lowe's store manager, was on site Wednesday morning. He believes these types of projects are vital to a community.

"It's really important to help fix areas like this," Metcalf said. "You have to make sure these kids are growing up in a good area and keep them off the streets."

Lowe's has been a partner with Habitat for Humanity since 2003 and just extended their partnership to 2018. They have donated over $62 million since their partnership started.

Tony Miranda, executive director of the Fresno Habitat for Humanity branch, has been working with the Alma Street neighborhood for the past four years.

"The initial reason we came here was to form a partnership with these families and establish some lasting changes within the community," Miranda said. "We have seen some really incredible improvements since we first came."

Miranda and his Habitat team hope to make an impact beyond just repairing homes. He believes it starts with residents.

"We have leadership training programs these people can attend," Miranda said. "We also have meetings where the members of these neighborhoods can speak to city councilmen."

Chezick said she attends the meetings. "It's nice to know we are being heard and it also helps to talk to these people in person."

Key to the success of this week's project are the volunteers from World Changers. The organization consists of more than 12,000 student volunteers nationwide, 138 of those helping on Almy Street.

"If I had one word to describe World Changers, it would be transformation," said Doug Forsythe, media relations representative for the organization. "It gives kids from churches the opportunity to be a part of a mission and spread their faith."

World Changers will be working in 90 different cities across the country this summer.

Habitat for Humanity hopes to have a neighborhood playground completed by the end of the year. Streetlights and better sidewalks are also in the works.

"We all rely on each other to make something really amazing," Miranda said. "This is such a rewarding experience."

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