Building Community: A Scene from Delray Beach

After stomping the edges of newly laid sod, Liam Reade awaits his next task.

According to the City of Delray Beach, community service has no age requirement. At this weekend’s “Curb Appeal by the Block” project, volunteers as young as four came to paint, garden, and relish the natural high that comes from giving back. Liam Reade was the youngest volunteer among a group of 200 area residents who, over the course of the day, revitalized six homes that’d been in need of some TLC.

“Each year we go through neighborhoods and find one that has a need for improvement,” says Jennifer Costello, Neighborhood Planner for the City of Delray Beach. This year’s revitalization project focused on a series of concrete-block homes mostly built in the 60s and 70s. Lula Butler, Director of Community Involvement, describes the neighborhood as “challenging.” She explains, “There are tenants who participate in undesirable activities and then there are many wonderful families who have owned homes here for 30 to 50 years. This year we are dealing with special people at different phases of life, overcoming or living with challenges.”

Gail-Lee McDermott, chair of Neighborhood Advisory Council, holds up Pete Anuar’s landscape plan.

The event took months to plan and a good deal of money to finance. The search for a neighborhood in need began in October. “We like to do projects that have a number of homes in a cluster so we show impact on the neighborhood,” says Nigel Roberts, Neighborhood Services Administrator. The hope is that others will be inspired to follow suit.

Volunteers from Delray Beach Fire-Rescue and the U.S. Navy teamed up.

After the vetting process, each home’s façade and lot is evaluated. Delray Beach’s Parks and Recreation preps each lawn site, and before designing each landscaping plan, Pete Anuar, Senior Landscape Planner for Delray Beach, consults with the homeowners. This year, Anuar was apt to use low-maintenance plants such as Bromeliad, Crown of Thorns, Crinum Lily, and foxtail palms. Contractors, meanwhile, address exterior repairs.

Sponsorship is crucial. The Home Depot donated $5,000 plus a portion of supplies, The Community Redevelopment Agency contributed $1,200, and Behr donated the remainder of paint needed. The whole project—paint, plants, other landscaping materials, mailboxes, rollers, brushes, signage, breakfast, lunch, water galore, and event tee shirts—cost about $15,000.

Final Results: Team Depot created a great deal of curb appeal.

Of course nothing gets done, at least not in 5 hours, without plenty of volunteers. The Home Depot brought a team of 50, their orange shirts looking swell against the pale blue home they were servicing. There was lots of muscle on the scene too, compliments of the Delray Beach fire and police departments—and the US Navy. Church groups, the Boys & Girls Club, and city employees were also on hand. Entire families came, friends worked together, and students earned community service hours. It was heartwarming to watch an experienced painter teach technique to a young boy. People were sweaty and stained with mulch, but they were happy—dirt and discomfort diminished by the spirit of do-gooding.

For a visual chronicle of the event, don’t miss the Curb Appeal by the Block: Event Photo Gallery