Overgrown weeds, broken glass, needles, discarded tires, air conditioners and televisions. A hot spot for dealing drugs.
“It was an awful place for the neighborhood,” Acre Coalition to Improve Our Neighborhood (ACTION) President Dave Ouellette said of the city-owned vacant lot on Whiting Street.
Last year, Ouellette was able to secure a $1,500 neighborhood grant from the city to kick-start what he had envisioned for that lot. Ouellette formed partnerships with several groups in the city including CTI Youth Build, Mill City Grows, Coalition for a Better Acre and the Alliance for Families and Neighborhoods.
Today, the lot has been cleared and Youth Build has constructed a pergola in the middle of the space, from which a bird feeder hangs. The Lowell Parks and Conservation Trust has donated two trees, which have been planted. Curbing that the city had discarded lines the border, where in the spring 14 raised garden beds will be built, giving tenement residents many of whom are immigrants from farming backgrounds, a place to grow vegetables.
Art will be displayed along the top of the fence behind the garden beds. It will be a place for neighbors to get to know each other, learn from each other and build a stronger, safer neighborhood.
Ouellette and others who received grants from the city last year shared their stories Tuesday afternoon at a meeting hosted by the city’s Neighborhood Planner, Allegra Williams, at City Hall.
About 35 people from neighborhood groups, non-profit organizations, businesses and schools attended the event to network and explore if projects they have in mind from beautifying parks, to bringing outdoor chess the downtown, to child window safety could benefit from a neighborhood grant.
Williams said last year $5,250 in funding was awarded, leading to partnerships between more than 25 organizations on various projects that have had a positive impact on more than 1,000 households, led to the planting of 20 trees and the beautification/maintenance of 30 public spaces and parks.
While the grant funding was the catalyst for getting the projects off the ground, they were able to been seen through to fruition through partnerships and using the initial funding to leverage an additional $11,000 in funding.
“This is a great city,” said Ouellette. “If you come up with an idea, there are so many groups.”
To be considered for a grant, a project must include at least two organizations working together with a minimum of 10 people involved. The project must also have a public benefit.
Another of last year’s grant recipients, Lowell Telecommunications Executive Director Jessica Wilson, used the funds to provide free Wi-Fi in the city’s Acre neighborhood.
Wilson said many low-income residents of the city cannot afford an Internet connection in their homes, but many do have Smartphones – they just don’t always have the ability to connect those devices to the Internet and need reliable hot spots.
The initial plan was to create free outdoor Wi-Fi spots in the neighborhood, but they soon discovered that would be problematic due to network security issues. So, radio boxes were installed at the YWCA Acre Youth Center on Rock Street and in the North Canal apartments owned by the Coalition for a Better Acre.
Wilson conducted training sessions to teach residents how to log-in to the Wi-Fi network and how it can and cannot be used. To incentivize people to attend the training, they raffled off two new Google tablets. One was awarded to a young girl who had never owned any type of device like it and the other to a grandmother who had never used email, but quickly grew to love her new techno-toy.
“We are really excited that more people are able to access the Internet,” Wilson said.
Grants of up to $2,000 are available. For more information, contact Neighborhood Planner Allegra Williams at 978-674-1473.