Two sisters have learned the meaning of cleaning up their share.
Ainé and Emaleigh Doley, sisters and longtime residents of West Rockland Street, started the West Rockland Street Project in 2009 to organize and bring residents together to improve the image and community in the neighborhood by cleaning and renovating it.
With neighbors enthusiastically greeting one another and flower planters lining the sidewalk and the fronts of homes, this block in the Germantown section of Northwest Philadelphia has clearly gone through changes.
When the sisters became co-captains of the block, they began projects that encouraged residents to clean up trash, plant gardens in their homes or spend time with kids during events, such as the Grow this Block! and Philly Spring Cleanup.
Just like with any other project, there were initial struggles for attendance. In the case of the Philly Spring Cleanup in 2009, Emaleigh explained the way new projects get started.
“When we have a new project idea, it’s usually going to be something that continues, so we always know the first time we do it, we’re not going to have as many participants,” Emaleigh said. “People need to see an example of something and get excited about it, and then they want to be a part of it.”
Grow This Block! was a project held over Memorial Day weekend and, due to its success, garnered media attention. Mayor Nutter read the story and stopped by the block for a tour from Ainé and then helped the block get two abandoned, dangerous houses torn down.
This kind of exposure enables the sisters to get help from volunteers and financial assistance from groups, such as the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and City Council, of which the latter awarded the block a $1,500 Philadelphia Activities Fund grant.
Emaleigh said the attention also boosts confidence throughout the community.
“It reinforces the good work that people are doing to help improve the block, whether it was from cleaning up or doing activities with kids or planting gardens,” Emaleigh said.
Both Ainé and Emaleigh have day jobs outside of their work on Rockland Street, with Emaleigh’s background being in public relations and Ainé’s in experiential marketing.
“I’m very skilled at promoting the events, making sure they happen right and knowing all about how events work, so that’s come in very handy when we’re promoting events here,” Ainé said.
The sense of community is another aspect that has been improved, made apparent with kids excitedly waving at the sisters and people taking part in events outside.
David Williams, 50, was on the sidewalk with his nieces and nephews, selling DVDs at what would have been the project’s flea market, though it was cancelled for that day.
“They’ve really been doing what they need to do for the block,” Williams said. “There’s nothing they won’t do for our block, and it inspired me to help out with the block more and play with the kids more.”
Not having the finances to move and realizing that it was becoming difficult to live on the street, the sisters both decided to kick start change, even with the difficulties.
“I like [the work] a lot, even though at times, it’s frustrating because it’s time consuming,” Ainé said. “We have to work together to keep it going.”
“It was kind of like our organizing came out of a necessity,” Emaleigh said. “We had to do it or we had to move.”
The last event of the year for the West Rockland Street block is its Halloween party on Oct. 31, where there will be three-legged races, egg-on-spoon races, potato sack races, tug of war, candy for the kids and bobbing for apples.
Albert Hong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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