On the 1000 block of Olney Avenue, changes in demographics have beat out community efforts to tighten the threads of unity within the area. Although several homes line the domain of Olney Avenue between 10th and 11th streets, only a few households remain active in their attempts to better the block from the roots up.
Resident Cynthia Buggs said she believes that the lack of community unity on the block is, in part, from the installment of duplexes and apartments.
“For the most part, we are all homeowners on this block,” Buggs said. “So, we care about what happens here and what gets done. But, you also have residents moving in and out of the duplexes more regularly and they just don’t care as much or aren’t as interested in getting involved.”
Anna Lightfoot, a resident of the block for 42 years, shared Buggs’ feelings regarding the rental units.
“It was a nice, quiet block,” Lightfoot said of her first experiences in the area. “But we didn’t realize there were so many duplexes.”
Buggs, who said that the convenience of public transportation is one of the main reasons she moved to the block 10 years ago, ran a daycare out of her home only two years ago before she was injured and had to stop the program.
“Caring for the kids on the block is an important part of a community,” Buggs said.
As co-captain of the block, Buggs said she believes that if community morals are taught by the elders and fostered by the youth, positive change is inevitable.
A majority of the block is either working class or elderly, leaving the strand of hope to the next generation. Where concerned citizens once lived, the duplexes now exist in place and the residents, Buggs said, offer little to the marketplace of ideas for the block.
Both Buggs and block captain Brenda Brickhouse agree that more public spaces are needed to help revamp their particular block of Olney. Buggs said that reopening the community center on the corner of 13th Street and Olney Avenue would be a major improvement.
The community center once functioned as an outlet for residents of the block to search for job openings, plan meetings and brainstorm for upcoming events.
“Without that guidance and extra help, there really is not much for the youth to look toward for assistance,” Buggs said.
The playground, recreation center and swimming pool are also elements of the community that need to be fixed and integrated back into the social activity on the block, Buggs said. Many residents said they feel that a holistic approach is necessary for engaging the youth.
“I think the community as a whole has to be involved,” Lightfoot said.
As rapidly as the residents in the duplex change, elder residents of the block are fighting to keep their dream alive.
Brickhouse has lived on this block for 46 years and documented the change as coming to almost a complete stop.
“We used to have kids coming from surrounding streets to hang out at our block parties, now not even the residents come,” Brickhouse said.
Besides the few involved and active block residents, such as Buggs and neighbor Sherad Jones, Brickhouse said that community efforts are at an all-time low.
“We used to have meetings regularly to discuss different things going on and to collect dues,” Brickhouse said. “The dues we’d use to buy school supplies for the kids on the block.”
The last meeting was held in August but after a low turnout, there has not been another.
“I’m getting older, everyone is getting older and that drive just isn’t there,” Brickhouse said. “But I won’t stop.”
Since 1982, Brickhouse has served as block captain and helped to implement values and standards in the residents that will hopefully be sustainable through the years.
Once a supportive services employee at Lowell Elementary, Brickhouse encompasses a nurturing role in her community, like co-captain Buggs, that homes a constant care for the people she lives around. The worry is, both Buggs and Brickhouse agree, that there will be few willing to take their place in the future years.
Hope may not be far for the community as certain prospects, like Jones’ daughter Brianna Grant, show particular interest in bettering their block.
Grant noted that by eliminating excess trash and remodeling abandoned homes, the block could be a much more visually appealing place and therefore lead to a more positive outlook from residents.
While concerned citizens start to filter out from those less worried about the state of their block, Brickhouse said she believes that the youth will be responsible for the next wave of positivity.
“The media only shows the bad,” Brickhouse said. “We’ve got to emphasize the good. How will the next generation know if we aren’t the ones to show them?”