Name: Miriam Ortega-Brown
Neighborhood Group: West Lancaster Jewels
Your work as one of the leaders in your Neighborhood Group is important because:
We are a newly formed group of neighbors who have a wish to connect with our neighbors more and to improve our area. We wish for the city to address the security issues, blighted areas, and the ever-growing challenge of finding a parking space. This position (elections will occur in the fall) is important because neighbors are coming out to meetings looking for connectivity and change. Our area is ready to take action and to make improvements.
Challenges that you are facing in your neighborhood right now:
Many issues have come up during our initial meetings. Safety and security appears to be paramount as other areas of the city have patrol and/or security cameras to deter crime. We have neither, which leaves our area as a haven for criminal activity. Also, certain blocks in our area have become neglected and neighboring residents are fed up with the litter, trash and blight that surrounds them. As soon as we are established we hope to follow in the footsteps of SoWe and apply for grants to beautify all corners of the West Jewels areas.
What are some of the rewards from being a neighborhood connector in your Group:
Oh, my goodness, there are so many rewards and pearls of joy that have come from connecting with my neighbors. And the regulars who come to the meetings would agree that this group has connected them in so many ways to people who have lived on their block for years and were just never acquainted. Plus, we have had several police officers to our meetings to answer questions and clarify laws, which has also connected us to those who protect and serve our immediate community. In addition, there are so many talented residents who live in our quadrant who encompass skills and the drive needed to propel the group forward. For instance, Julien Godbarge who resides on Ruby, a consultant and business owner of GEM Consulting Solutions, will assist us in strategizing and implementing our goals to propel us to the next level. Another talent, Artist and illustrator Justin Jones, who created our logo, will be working with Lancaster Arts Joanna Davis to implement functional art that will slow traffic at the intersection by Crystal Park, another issue in the neighborhood. I can’t leave out Jenna Dougherty owner of the Pita Pit who has a ton of drive and who with Janae Algires, myself and LaShonda Whitaker of Whitaker Childcare formed a gardening group to beautify the 600 block of Columbia Ave. and parts of Ruby Street. Also, retired but active residents, Tom Cumrod & Andy & Ellen Berfond, of Clock Towers have loaned their time and talents by hosting meetings at Clock Towers. And Andy took words and ideas from our neighbors about what they thought about our area and crafted our mission statement.
Can you give a specific example of how your neighborhood has worked together?
The biggest reward came the day of our first block party and members came out to help in every and any capacity needed. Even neighbors who never attended a meeting pitched in and moved traffic barriers, cleaned up after the event, painted little faces, and hung unwilling banners. It was wonderful to see us all come together for one common good. Even Judge Adam Witkonis stood longer than necessary grilling hot dogs on that humid Saturday. All who attended were happy with the music stylings of Big Boy Brass who were friends of neighbor, Ian Lowe. Ian, with friend George, operated our only game and gifted every child with a basketball. And I can’t leave out Casey Flores who made it all possible and Lauren who added the final touches with her grill and sound system just to name a few.
What is your secret to meeting new neighbors and welcoming them into the community?
Good old fashion civility, just saying hello to people and listening is key. I could go on and on about my three kids but listening offers much more insight about my neighbors. For example, I’ve lived across Mr. C for 17 years and I thought I knew him, but last week I lingered a little longer and found out that he used to walk to work at the clock factory (now the clock towers) just two blocks away. He did this every day, except for the two tours of service in Korea and during WW II. Listening is key to building relationships.
In addition, Betsy Osman has piloted the “Welcome Kit” where she personally knocks on new neighbor’s doors and provides flyers and information about the city and our area as well as a baked goodie. We’re trying to push this out and have “Welcome” leaders on other blocks.
Favorite way to spend a day with family, or friends in Lancaster City:
My husband, Kyle, of 18 years and I and our three boys like to spend time at local events. Most recently we attended San Juan Bautista’s 35th annual church festival. We’re members and try to attend the popular festival annually. This year the church had unlimited jumps from a bouncy house inflatable company. The fabulous Latino dishes from several different countries are also a big draw, as well as the live music acts. It also brings neighbors, family and friends together as we see old familiar faces once again. It brings a great source of local pride.