North and East resident gets lawn makeover from neighbors

Volunteers of the North and East neighborhood patrol that helped clean an overrun yard. Sitting from left to right: Katherine Hanway, Ellen Seskin, Ziaoyan Ma, Virginia Harrison. Standing: Mike Gerhardt, Richard Hanway, Rebecca Auerbach, Michael Hill, Nancy Lewis, Auna Longpre and Jeff Lidiker. Not pictured Brian Lewis and Emmet Lidiker. (Photo provided by Ellen Seskin)

Volunteers of the North and East neighborhood patrol that helped clean an overrun yard. Sitting from left to right: Katherine Hanway, Ellen Seskin, Ziaoyan Ma, Virginia Harrison. Standing: Mike Gerhardt, Richard Hanway, Rebecca Auerbach, Michael Hill, Nancy Lewis, Auna Longpre and Jeff Lidiker. Not pictured Brian Lewis and Emmet Lidiker. (Photo provided by Ellen Seskin)

Looking out for your neighbor isn’t just about pushing aside a dusty curtain and peering across the street to see if everything is okay. For Richmond’s North and East neighborhood patrol, community safety means going outside their neighbor’s homes, hitting the pavement and talking to people.

Last Saturday, 13 North and East neighborhood patrol volunteers did just that by cleaning the front and back yard of a disabled homeowner. For months, the property had been overrun with thorny blackberry vines, tall grass, weeds and a fig tree whose canopy nearly hit the ground.

“We didn’t know there was even a pond here,” said volunteer Mike Hill, pointing to a corner of the back yard. “We had briars at least six feet tall. You couldn’t see the top of the shed—couldn’t get to the shed.”

Hill, a 17-year North and East resident, said when he first saw the back yard he knew the group wouldn’t be able to complete the project alone. So he called a lawn maintenance crew to help with the back yard. Hill said the crew charged $400, but that donations were collected during a National Night Out block party to help defray the expenses.

Blight is an issue for most communities. To counter it, municipalities have a list of regulations that help keep things in order. Richmond Police Department code enforcement officer Nicole Ewing said the department fines people for parking cars on front lawns, overgrowth, and vacant properties with broken windows that aren’t secure. Residents are given five or 10 days to correct citations. If the blight is not cleaned up, fines start at $250 per citation, but can reach as high as $1,000 if the violation isn’t abated, Ewing said.

But for some residents, making repairs, especially this quickly, is financially or physically difficult.

“I got a call from a lady who was crying because she could not afford take care of her lawn,” said Ewing. “I told her if I got her some help it would be something she wouldn’t have to pay for.”

That’s when North and East neighborhood patrol stepped in. What would have taken the homeowner weeks to correct, the group got done in a couple visits.

Patrol volunteer Emmet Zediker moved to North and East from Point Richmond two years ago. He said he spent Saturday pulling and scraping weeds off the sidewalk. When he finished detailing the ground, he next tackled a large tree, pruning it to give it form.

“It was nice to do something for somebody else without getting anything in return,” said Zediker. “It’s good karma and [the yard] looks a heck of a lot better. I had a great time visiting with neighbors and connecting with the nice lady that we didn’t know.”

Vincenzo Azzolino, 73, lives near the home with the overrun yard and said everyone was looking at the house wondering when the yard would take shape. “I really appreciate what they’re doing for the lady because she needs help,” he said.

Patrol volunteer Ellen Seskin said the idea behind the group is to improve the lives of those who live in the neighborhood. Every Thursday at 7:15 p.m. the group gets together near Burg Park on the corner of 30th Street and Clinton Avenue and goes on patrol. If they see anything strange or unsightly they report the violation to Code Enforcement.

Another idea the neighborhood council is cultivating is tree planting. Seskin said the tree committee wants to plant 300 trees throughout the neighborhood by mid-October. To do that, they go door-to-door letting people know the city has a tree-planting program. The only requirements are that the resident must remove a square section of their sidewalk and water the tree once it is planted by the city.

“There are different trees for different situations: under wires, wet ground, evergreen,” said Seskin. “A lot of people don’t want trees because they worry that it will uplift the sidewalk, or mess up their foundation or clog the sewer pipes.  All of the recommended trees are not supposed to cause any of these problems, and if they do, they city will foot the bill for any necessary repairs, as long as they have planted the tree.”

17 Comments

  1. Great article – thanks so much!

  2. LOVE the article – thanks so much!

  3. suburbanjoe

    There are plenty of people here who do this sort of thing; helping out their neighbors by doing yard work or other things and they DON’T send THEIR photo into the newspaper to try to get praise for it.

    • Felix Hunziker

      Suburbanjoe’s a real sourpuss. Not one of these volunteers lives near this house or knows the owner. They helped a complete stranger avoid costly administrative fines and in doing so improved the neighborhood and the bond of community that runs strong in the N&E neighborhood. Given the news that typically comes out of Richmond this *should* be celebrated and shared as an example to others.

      • You’re right, Felix. And frankly, to put such news in the press just sets an example for others and helps them realize that they too can do something for their neighborhood rather than simply complain to the city about it. Whether or not we realize it, we’re part of a social compact, and we all should get involved at some level.

  4. suburbanjoe

    Social compact? People can help if they want to, or not; it’s a choice. What you’re saying sounds like organizing, activism and socialism to me. Are you going to run around cleaning up house cited by Code Enforcement?

    • Felix Hunziker

      Here’s my social compact: if no one lifts a finger nothing will ever change.

      • suburbanjoe

        Nothing has changed in Richmond in the last 45 years except for it all to get worse. Social programs from 60s have helped it decline. Until people learn to take care of their own property, pay their own way and keep their children off the streets at night, it’s only going to continue the decline. Most of the reasonable people have left because the quality of life is bad and there’s no safety. You aren’t going to change that by pulling some weeds for someone who has to find a way to help themselves or sell the property. Are you going to continue to maintain or pay to maintain this home? What about all the other properties? I’m not sure what message this sends other than, “we’ll get you out of that code enforcement fine.” None of this was my original complaint; people shouldn’t do good deeds and take a photo for the newspaper to run unless they’re looking for a pat on the back, which I strongly suspect.

        • That Lassie

          This was a personal photo, it was NOT taken for the paper. Individuals were approached AFTER the fact and asked if an article could be written as an example of neighbors and community helping those less fortunate. No strokes wanted, ever – this project was just the tip if the iceberg regarding this group’s continued efforts to help and keep paying love foreward. None had ever met this home owner. The on going maintenance of this property has been discussed and will be addressed with the grateful woman who owns the house. I’m disabled, struggle to get my bills and yard work completed and thus know that help is really appreciated when something gets out of control – chronic pain and loss of physical strength are truly life changing and quite humbling.

        • Wow, suburbanjoe, you sound like a really unhappy person! Let me explain a few things to you about how this all came about. Maybe it will make you feel a little bit better.

          The homeowner was notified by code enforcement that if she didn’t clean up her yard, she would be fined. She called them, and was very concerned – she said she was unable to tend to the yard herself, and didn’t have the money to pay the fine. Code enforcement then called someone in our neighborhood, who put out a call for volunteers to help clean up her yard. 15 of us spent 4 hours on a Saturday morning working hard. We took pictures ourselves for ourselves to have. As bad as the front yard was, the back was worse. So we took up a collection and raised enough money to have a crew come in and clear that out. The homeowner was extremely grateful – she asked, how can I thank you? We told her, you just did.

          We then received a call from a reporter who asked if he could write an article about what we had done. He asked if we had pictures, so we gave him some.

          We are hoping to figure out some way to continue helping this woman, perhaps by periodically coming in and working for a few hours every month or so. But no matter what happens now, we felt really good that we were able to help her out, and she is able to enjoy her yard for the first time in a while. Was it cool to get the article? Sure! But did we do it for publicity? Absolutely not. We did it because someone needed help, so we helped.

          You say we aren’t going to change the fact that the reasonable people have left Richmond because of the poor quality of life. You should hear some of the comments those of us who live in the North and East neighborhood have made. I am friends with more people here now than in all my years of living in other neighborhoods. If one of us needs help dozens of people immediately step up and do what they can. When I broke my leg and was unable to walk, I had three walkers loaned to me by the end of the week and a refrigerator full of enough food to feed the whole neighborhood for a week. They didn’t do it because they wanted to get into the newspaper. They did it because I needed help.

          I hope that someday, you are able to realize that there are wonderful people everywhere, doing really wonderful things. That’s the reality of life in Richmond.

  5. suburbanjoe

    I’m not an unhappy person, I simply have a different opinion than you. The way I see it people need to pull their own weight. Hand out after hand out will only make you dependent, I saw it happen after WW II. Before then this was a great place–not just your neighborhood, all of the city. Being nice to your neighbor, picking up after yourself and going to work each day were important things we all did. People would have been ashamed for others to come and do their yard for them. Too many people here just sit around and complain about their troubles and wait for a hand out from the goverment or someone else. That’s not negative, just the way I see it.

    • You’re right, things are different now than they used to be. When we first moved here and were hammering nails (badly I might say) to build a new fence neighbors showed up, hammers in hand, and started helping. We always helped each other in ways that we could. It seems that now so many people only worry about themselves and that any attempt to help others earns you the label of communist. I’m sorry you don’t have the same experience where you live. Maybe someday you will.

  6. And Joanne – it would be great to meet you! If you’re part of the email list please write to me – I’ll buy you a cup of coffee at Catahoula. If not you can find out from Richmond Confidential how to reach us or you can look for me on Facebook.

  7. suburbanjoe

    I think it’s the activistism, organizing and fund raising which might lead people to think you’re a communist.

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