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Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch From left, Brittany Wilt, Diana Lucas, Kristen Golden, Sara Ryan and Bryson Karbley of the Children's Home Society of West Virginia, stand in front of a small park they created with a "Love Your Block" program mini-grant at The Wild Ramp on Monday, June 24, 2019, in Huntington. Cities of Service recently named Huntington as one of 10 U.S. cities that has won its Cities of Service City Hall AmeriCorps VISTA Love Your Block competition.

Sometimes, it's the little things that add up to make a difference in a community. And when you can combine some support to people's natural inclinations to improve their little corners of the world, the payoffs can be numerous.

Examples of that have occurred over the past year in Huntington, where some residents' and organizations' interests in improving neighborhoods coincided with a Love Your Block program available through city government.

Huntington was one of 10 cities chosen by the nonprofit organization Cities of Service to receive funding to support the Love Your Block program locally for two years. The organization's mission is to improve relationships between citizens and city governments through community engagement. Toward that end, Huntington received $25,000 to allocate as minigrant projects in the West End neighborhood.

In that first year, the city's selection committee awarded seven minigrants for projects, including four public space enhancements, two exterior home repairs and the newly created park.

An example of how things can come together - and expand - is the project undertaken by Brittani Wilt and some of her colleagues at the Children's Home Society of Huntington. Wilt started out with a goal of building a blessings box, but as she was researching information she saw the Love Your Block program application on the city's website. Her group successfully applied for a grant. But their plans evolved when they contacted the Cabell County Master Gardeners and others who helped in its design. The lot they were eyeing was owned by the Grace Baptist Church, which agreed to see it transformed.

With the cooperation from the gardeners and the church, the mini-grant from the Love Your Block program and their own sweat equity (several days of work went into the endeavor), the result was a park in the West End with benches, a swing and an apple tree. Wilt said people have stopped littering on the lot, located around the corner from The Wild Ramp on West 5th Avenue, and neighbors have taken notice of the improvements.

Other grant recipients have included the West Huntington Organization, which repainted signs, planted trees and rebuilt a falling sidewalk; the Old Central City Association, which planted flowers around the 14th Street West Gazebo; The Wild Ramp, which installed a planter to benefit bees and other pollinators; and two residents to make minor exterior home repairs.

In its first year, the Love Your Block program has shown what is possible when there's a goal of making community improvements, a little bit of seed money and the development of partnerships among like-minded groups and individuals. It provides a lesson to community residents and city government that working together on ways to improve the community can yield a result greater than the sum of its parts. Even if the grant program goes away after the coming year, the city should continue down a similar path to encourage such projects. They don't have to be expensive; there just has to be a mechanism to take advantage of willing residents' desire to improve their parts of the city.

To learn more

Huntington residents or groups interested in the Love Your Block program may call the city of Huntington's Department of Planning and Development at 304-696-5540 ext. 3.

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