John Villa, a fifth-generation resident of his Erie, Pennsylvania neighborhood, helps lead Neighborhood Watch #13, a volunteer group of home owners that take on revitalization projects for a safer community.
Neighborhood Watch #13 was started in 1995 to address changes that John and other longtime residents saw happening on their block. According to John, a retired US Navy serviceman, many homes in the old Polish neighborhood changed ownership over time, as older residents passed away and property ownership switched over to absentee landlords. Volunteers rallied around needs such as emergency home repairs, code violations, greenspace cleanup, broken windows, damaged roofs and facades.
Run by an all-volunteer Board of Directors who are also long-time residents, the organization’s history of strong leadership and community engagement has been instrumental in their ongoing success. Working with local retailers, individual donors and city officials, the group has successfully obtained over $600,000 in grant funding over the past 18 years to support restoration projects.
Neighborhood Watch #13 also leads a food drive each month that provides bags of food to 75 residents in the area. The effort currently has seven active volunteers.
John’s advice to others who want to revitalize their neighborhoods? “Never give up,” he says emphatically. “That’s the key. Change is going to take a long time. If you’re serious about wanting to change your neighborhood, never give up.”