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California City Solutions: Lancaster Supports Neighborhood Volunteer Revitalization Projects and Community Service Day

July 11, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award entries.
 
These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. Lancaster’s Safer Stronger Neighborhoods was submitted in 2013 for the Enhancing Public Trust, Ethics, and Community Involvement award category.
 
The city of Lancaster encourages residents to volunteers and become involved with community-initiated efforts to strengthen their neighborhoods and improve safety. It supports these volunteer service projects under its various Stronger Safer Neighborhoods programs and committees. Programs include volunteer service activities that neighborhood residents propose and implement and are specifically designed to meet the needs of each individual neighborhood. As a result, neighborhoods are becoming more cohesive and crime is decreasing.
 
The city annually gathers hundreds of volunteers with city officials, churches, civic organizations, nonprofit groups and businesses to work together on community improvement projects, events and other activities designed to meet various city needs. These limited city-planned projects usually involve sprucing up different community areas and clearing trash debris from vacant lots to help beautify and strengthen Lancaster.
 
It was no surprise that many of the volunteers, even those who were neighbors, had never met prior to their volunteer activities. The process of working together helped create a stronger sense of community among volunteers.
 
Simultaneously, Lancaster City Hall began to receive many project requests from residents involving their specific neighborhoods. The requests were being referred to as neighborhood volunteer service programs and illustrated that significant interest existed t in neighbors working together on projects to keep their neighborhoods healthy, attractive, strong and viable. While the ambition was there, project volunteers lacked the organizational skills and financial resources needed to bring their ideas to fruition.
 
Although Lancaster consistently supports community-based and community-initiated efforts to improve neighborhood livability and safety, the city also wanted to increase support for its more recently created neighborhood volunteer service programs. With reduced resources, the city found itself seeking support resources for these resident requested projects.
 
To be able to support safe and healthy neighborhoods, the city determined it needed to create partnerships, increase community commitment and offer education. A new partnership formed between residents, the sheriffs’ and fire departments, schools, and local business merchants which helped build volunteer efforts and connect community members. The ongoing volunteer activities offer opportunities for residents to annually design and implement neighborhood service projects reflecting their particular neighborhood needs.
 
To encourage broader community involvement, the city created two supporting committees; the Lancaster Neighborhood Vitalization Commission (LNVC) and the Lancaster Safer Stronger Neighborhoods Committee (LSSN).
  • LNVC comprises seven community leaders nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the city council. This commission is tasked with garnering community support and working with the city council and staff to facilitate the stronger administration of various housing programs.
  • LSSN is a partnership of representatives from all city departments and volunteers from the Lancaster Sheriff's Station, the Los Angeles County Fire Department and local schools. This committee works cooperatively to institute programs, provide support and make resources available to ensure that Lancaster neighborhoods become safer and stronger each and every year.
To accommodate residents of specific neighborhoods with a forum to address safety-related issues, city hall meetings are hosted jointly with the Lancaster Sheriff's Station. LNVC and LSSN work together creating new programs and expanding existing programs to meet current needs.
In an effort to further improve neighborhoods and strengthen neighbor relationships, LNVC and LSSN launched a new program in July 2010 called Uniting Neighbors in a Team Effort (UNITE) Lancaster. This new initiative facilitates united citizen effort and involvement in the betterment of their neighborhoods.

The UNITE Lancaster program offers residents an annual opportunity to propose neighborhood improvement projects and apply for resources and funding to complete the projects. Proposals go through a competitive selection process, and successful applicants are provided with the tools and resources they need to implement their projects. Past projects have included establishing neighborhood community gardens; making home repairs for the elderly and disabled; and implementation of a program to combat childhood obesity.
 
This innovative program encourages creativity and the spirit of volunteerism, as well as creating camaraderie as neighbors work together and build strong relationships to help each other in times of need. Selected neighborhood projects receive funding, supplies, labor and other resources from the city and community business partners to carry out their proposals.
 
The city’s third annual UNITE program selected eight service projects. The projects were evaluated on self-reliance, neighborhood involvement, sustainability, community benefit, partnership building, and innovation. Since its launch, the program has adopted a targeted approach in order to increase the program’s impact within a specific neighborhood. Projects taking place within each year’s identified neighborhood for the program are given preference during the selection process.
 
Increasing Citizen Volunteer Opportunities
 
Besides fostering the neighborhood service projects, Lancaster was looking for additional ways to engage the largest number of citizens in community service and volunteerism and decided to combine these efforts with a holiday celebration. Several years ago, the city transformed the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday event into a day of community service, honoring Dr. King’s memory and philosophies.
 
The Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a compilation of community service projects where residents can volunteer and business can donate goods or services. The MLK Day of Service is a part of the President’s national call to service initiative, United We Serve, calling for Americans from all walks of life to work together to provide solutions to our most pressing national problems. 
 
During the 2012 MLK Day of Service, 32 service projects took place, involving more than 50 community service organizations, businesses, and volunteer groups, as well as more than 1,600 volunteers. Projects included improvement and cleanup jobs at the 100-year-old A.V. High School, downtown businesses, parks and community wellness homes; joining the bone marrow match registry; creating children’s murals; participating in a Build-a-Bike project for kids; and donating to blood drives. A new project featured two female hospice patients receiving makeovers.
 
Approximately 800 UNITE participants and nearly 1,000 volunteer hours were logged as of Sept. 22, 2012. Both the UNITE and Martin Luther King volunteer service programs have more than 30 small business and corporate partners donating supplies, food, and equipment for the projects. Sponsors witness first-hand how the projects’ impact on their neighborhoods.
 
The scope of these community volunteer projects, as well as the willingness and continuing high energy invested by the team of Stronger Safer Neighborhoods volunteers, young and old, has generated a year-round spirit of service in making Lancaster a better place to live for all residents.


 
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