According to Lorraine,
The most important thing Citzens Planning Institute taught me is to organize, organize, organize.
She continues, “Organize your block. Start there. One voice is great, but if you have fifty voices, it’s even better. If we organize ourselves, block by block, we can make ourselves so much stronger.”
Lorraine Gomez saw an opportunity to use the vacant lots on her block for something good. She knew she couldn’t do it alone, so she and Citizen Planner Joyce Smith co-founded the Viola Street Residents Association to rally neighbors together.
Viola Street Residents Association worked with Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to beautify the lots, transforming them from potentially dangerous eyesores to a thriving community space. The beautified lots are now used at least once a week for neighborhood gatherings and events!
Getting a permit to shut down neighborhood streets takes time and effort. Now neighbors can easily set up meetings and parties in the lot instead!
In the summer, Lorraine’s neighbors and their families use the lots to watch movies under the stars.
Lorraine told the story of this success and teach others how to do it by instructing on building an effective team through leadership and recruitment for a CPI class on Community Engagement.
Lorraine's passion for parks and green space extends beyond Viola Street!
Through her job as Neighborhood Advisory Committee Coordinator for Mount Vernon Manor CDC in Mantua, she is part of the parternship (which includes the City Planning Commission!) creating the Mantua Greenway.
The Mantua Greenway will be a bike and walking trail between Mantua Avenue and the Amtrak tracks. The designs for the Greenway will be completed in 2019, which is an important step towards building it.
The trail will meet up with other trails in the region. In other words, the trail is a connector just like Lorraine!
Once the Mantua Greenway is constructed, neighbors will already have a way to hit the trail on a bike!
A station of Indego Bikes, the City's bikeshare program, was installed in East Parkside in 2016. Lorraine helped neighbors learn how to use the bikes and get comfortable with them.
When Lorraine and other VSRA members realized they had reached the limits of what they could accomplish without funding, they began to dream bigger.
In 2015 Lorraine helped found the Centennial Parkside Community Development Corporation (CDC) along with Citizen Planner Joyce Smith, and 8 other neighborhood advocates. Lorraine is a trustee on the Board of Directors.
Centennial Parkside CDC hit the ground running! They have:
Since graduating from CPI, Lorraine has set up a VSRA food buying club in partnership with local farms. For $50, residents can buy into the club to receive fruits and vegetables for 6 weeks. Neighbors who did not manage to sign up also can purchase leftover produce.
Lorraine helped Centennial Parkside CDC hire a neighborhood ambassador for East Parkside (funded by the Knight Foundation). The neighborhood ambassador cleans the streets and reporting issues to 3-1-1.
They also make sure that properties aren’t being used illegally, meaning in ways that their zoning does not allow.
“In some of our communities,” Lorraine said, “we have these detail and car wash places, tire change places—they want to house hundreds of tires. Next thing you know, you have a dump in your neighborhood.”
The neighborhood ambassador monitors these places to make sure that these places stay compliant with city regulations.
Lorraine participated in the Citizens Planning Institute Neighborhood Exchange, teaching Strawberry Mansion residents how East Parkside got affordable home repairs for their historic houses, and learning how Strawberry Mansion did their own DIY home repairs.
If money and time were no object, Lorraine wishes she could provide free or affordable home repair for everyone who needs it.
“People can afford to pay taxes,” she said, “but they can’t afford upkeep.” Lorraine is especially concerned for elderly residents and those who physically cannot do repairs themselves.
She believes that if enough preventative maintenance could take place in these homes, then many homes would never reach such a high rate of disrepair.
Lorraine's parting advice?
I always tell people who live in challenged neighborhoods—stop seeing what you’re seeing and visualize. It all starts with a dream.