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Profiles in Service: AmeriCorps Member Revitalizes Neighborhood

by Fred Wong

On April 21, 2009, President Obama signed the Serve America Act into law – the most sweeping expansion of national service in a generation. To mark the one year anniversary, we are going to spotlight the stories of everyday service heroes who are transforming lives and local communities across the country. Here is Effy's story.

Five years ago, Mika Community Development Corporation recruited its first AmeriCorps member in the Shalimar neighborhood of Costa Mesa, CA. Her name was Effy Sanchez. During that year Effy walked door to door in this neighborhood trying to discover what neighbors were interested in changing to improve their community. She listened over and over. Finally it was clear. The neighbors wanted their park back.

It was a tiny park. It had been taken over by drug users and gangs. It was riddled with paraphernalia dangerous to children. The park caused such fear in parents that they brought their children to school and back home holding their hands the whole way and they did not allow their children to leave the house.

Within a year, Effy organized a neighborhood committee. With the committee established, neighbors were able to collaborate to make the community safer. The neighbors arranged a new neighbor welcome program, organized meals for the sick, and established a trash clean up schedule for the elderly.

Eventually, Effy arranged for meetings with the Parks and Recreation Department to upgrade the park. She coached the committee members in negotiations with the department. Today they have their park back with lights that work and a new playground. It is a community center where residents interact. The committee has since moved on to other successes.

In her second year of service, Effy began walking and listening to the Maple neighborhood, a second target neighborhood. She organized a local citizens group to take responsibility for the neighborhood. The group’s greatest undertaking to date has been organizing and developing an after-school learning center to help students succeed. The group used its meager resources to rent a center (which was an apartment) and provide snacks and supervision. The group engaged church volunteers from a nearby supporting congregation to help operate the center.

Mika CDC has now been an AmeriCorps program four-and-a-half years and it is working in its fourth neighborhood. Costa Mesa is stronger and better because AmeriCorps members are teaching residents, churches, non-profits, and the city how to implement Asset Based Community Development principles and practices in their neighborhoods.

Learn more about AmeriCorps.

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