1,500 volunteers spruce up Manassas's Georgetown South area

By Sarah Lane
Sunday, May 2, 2010

Nearly 1,500 volunteers descended on the Georgetown South community in Manassas on April 24 with one goal: to help beautify the aging neighborhood in a single day.

The project, 1 by Youth, brought together volunteers, primarily church groups, from the city of Manassas and Prince William and Fairfax counties -- and as far as Pennsylvania -- to launch a national effort to have a million youth volunteers serving communities.

"This volunteer group coming in and changing the aesthetics of the community is the first step in changing the perception," said incoming Manassas Police Chief Douglas W. Keen. "A reputation is a hard thing to get rid of, and they've worked for 20 years to get rid of it. And now neighbor helping neighbor, community helping community is the first step for them to change their reputation."

Kisha Wilson-Sogunro, the neighborhood services manager for the city, learned about the program in October when an appeal was sent out by Group Cares, a Colorado-based nonprofit organization.

Manassas was the first city to participate. Indianapolis, Detroit and Louisville are scheduled to follow in the coming weeks.

Linda Proffitt, one of the organizers for 1 by Youth in Indianapolis, was in town to see the pilot program firsthand and to take notes for their event.

"Georgetown South is a really nice neighborhood compared to the abandonment and blight we're facing in Indianapolis," she said. "It's a moment of pure joy to see what we'll be experiencing."

She made note to have extra trash bags on hand.

When Georgetown South was built in the mid-1960s, it was the first townhouse community in Manassas and considered the place to live, said Christie Strader, the community manager for Georgetown South. By the 1980s, it was a high-crime area developing a bad reputation. Efforts to clean up the neighborhood have been ongoing since the 1990s.

Strader joined Georgetown South in October. Her first task was to change the neighborhood covenant on fences so that there would be one style: a 3 1/2 -foot white gothic picket fence around each front yard with a six-foot privacy fence in the back. Flowers will be added at each brick entrance to soften the look of the neighborhood and to make it more appealing, Strader said.

The 1 by Youth project "is the kickoff for the revitalization of Georgetown South," she said.

After an early-morning rally with welcoming speeches from Manassas City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes and others, the youth groups were dispersed to their assigned areas. Despite the rain, groups of adults and teenagers painted picket fences in front of houses and utility boxes in common areas. Playgrounds were cleaned of trash, and mulch was spread around playground equipment and in other places throughout the neighborhood.

"I saw the playground and felt bad for the kids," said Niki Scott, a 14-year-old student at Emmanuel Christian School in Manassas. "I'm glad we're all here."

Candace Brown of Centreville, who was collecting trash and painting fences with her husband, Eugene, and their two children, was happy to be there, too.

"It's important that we're out here as families. All these children are out here really taking part and lending a hand without fear, without anything. . . . My kids are working with strangers, and they're loving it. If we all start with one community, we can do a lot," she said.

The one day of volunteering took nearly six months of planning and preparation. The biggest concern with the project was securing donations, Wilson-Sogunro said. With her team, she raised $60,000 in donations, including lumber from Lowe's and 84 Lumber for a pavilion and pathways, 100 gallons of fuel from EE Wine used for construction equipment during preliminary work, $9,000 worth of paint from Sherwin-Williams and truckloads of mulch, including playground-grade mulch.

"The project is massive," Wilson-Sogunro said. "We're not moving on until the job is done."

© 2010 The Washington Post Company