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Volunteer Group Targets Overgrown Rockford Lawns to Reduce Blight

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Abandoned buildings and vacant lots are the staples of blight that plague the Ellis Heights neighborhood. Now, Rockford has partnered with an up-and-coming volunteer group to make a difference in the neighborhood by mowing empty lots.

“It’s great background music for me, hearing the mowing that’s going on,” exclaimed Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey (I).  “We’ve got a beautiful, sunshiny day.”

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Some may see a vacant lot being mowed as a small step.  Others, however, say it’s about time.

“It is way overdue,” said Ellis Heights resident Curliss Dismuke, standing in an empty, overgrown lot. “The house has been gone I would say at least 10 years.”

Curliss says he’s seen it all.

“I’ve lived in the neighborhood for 32 years and I’ve seen the neighborhood go from a well-kept neighborhood to what you see and have now.  [Upkeep] makes your property value go up.  It makes your area look a lot better.”

The Zion West Neighborhood Association has been around for only a year and the grand plan is to mow 28 lots this summer, and possibly as many as 100 down the road.

“There’s a lot of power and energy that just needs the right support,” said Matthew Simpson of the United Way Rock River Valley.  “With that support, we can make some amazing things happen.”

With thousands of vacant properties, the project may seem overwhelming.

“This program really reaches further than we had envisioned by bringing economic possibilities back to the West side,” said Pastor Marvin Hightower of the Zion West Neighborhood Association.

“It’s about recognizing the challenges, but also the assets that we have,” said Morrissey.  “Building the people up in our community as we improve the community itself. [We accomplish that by] reducing blight and improving the quality of life in the neighborhood.”

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