This is a story about the spirit of a community and the activities of the 3800 10th Street NW Block Club in the District's Petworth neighborhood.
There is a woman named Mary Adkins, whom neighbors call a "one-lady amenities committee." Adkins somehow manages to find out when a neighbor is sick, and then shows up at the person's door with a favorite food or flowers.
"She knows who likes grapes and who likes what kind of flowers," said Betty Jean Roberts, president of the 10th Street club. "If you've had a serious operation and can't cook, she'll come to your house and cook for you."
Charles Patterson makes a similar contribution to his community. Neighbors call him "a gem."
"If you get sick, he'll go to the store for you and get exactly what you've ordered," Roberts said. "And if the order is not right, he'll take it back and make it right. Plus, he'll also take out your trash."
Earl Wright Jr. is the block club handyman. A retired painter who worked for Howard University, he'll give your house a touch-up if it needs one. And when he walks his dog each day, he stops to pick up trash in the alley and along the street.
Even though his back occasionally hurts when he stoops, he says, "It's just my back that hurts when I bend over, but trash is an eyesore that hurts the whole neighborhood."
Oddly enough, the people mentioned didn't want their names used or pictures taken. They really don't see what they do as news, and certainly nothing to brag about.
But they are wrong about that.
The fact is, people like them are the real heroes of the city. Undaunted by political disenfranchisement, crime, drugs or the arrival of upscale new residents who are being credited with "saving the city," they continue to take their civic responsibility seriously.
Their reward: one of the most livable communities in our area.
And it's not just adult block club members who have the spirit. Not long ago, David Dzidzienyo, Marc Adkins and Trina Thompson organized the children who live in the neighborhood, including public housing complexes, for a "Kids Who Care" cleanup campaign.
Scores of them turned out for a day of alley cleaning and street sweeping. The D.C. Department of Public Works supplied the brooms and shovels; the children supplied the backbone and muscle. By sundown, the neighborhood was spick-and-span.
This is just the way Roberts likes it. She had been attracted to Petworth in 1960 by its quiet, tree-lined streets, convenient shopping, library, schools and playgrounds.
"You could sit out on the porch and hear the crickets at night," she recalled. "It was a beautiful place to raise your children."
By the late '60s, however, a new wave of residents had begun to arrive who were less family oriented. Many were single and just liked to party. So her husband, George M. Roberts, decided to organize a block club.
"He understood that sometimes you have to educate people about what it means to be a good neighbor," Betty Roberts recalled. "People come from different cultures, and you can't always call the police on them. So you invite them to block club meetings and let them become a part of a cooperative effort."
Roberts was elected president of the block club 10 years ago. Under her leadership, club members have helped the nearby Raymond Elementary School, which now has a new fence around the playground. They have gotten weeds and trees trimmed and street lights installed. Police patrols have been increased, and drug activity appears to be on the wane.
They also got Safeway Corp. to make improvements in the Safeway store at Georgia Avenue and Randolph Street NW.
"It used to be the worst store in the Safeway organization," Roberts said. "It was dirty, and the meat would rot because the meat counter didn't have the right temperature. The produce was the pits, and rats would eat the bread."
Most neighbors went elsewhere. But Roberts would not give up. She organized a letter-writing campaign to Safeway headquarters in California and finally persuaded the company to remodel the store.
"I said, 'No, no, no. . . . We will not accept this. The store is in our neighborhood, and you must live up to our standards,' " Roberts said.
Under manager Henry Gentry, Safeway began bringing in quality products and giving service with a smile. Also, neighborhood resident Charles Harris was hired by Safeway as a janitor. It was a great move, for Harris goes beyond the call of duty, picking up trash wherever he sees it.
A few weeks ago, he wrote a letter to his neighbors, which Roberts reproduced and posted in stores and on church bulletin boards.
It read, "If you knew how hard I worked, maybe you'd think twice before you dropped that piece of paper on the ground." The heartfelt appeal appears to be working, neighbors say, and the area around the store is much cleaner.
"We are just little people who nobody knows about that have taken an interest in our community," Roberts said. "We believe that the spirit of a community is in the spirit of the people who live in the community, and if we work hard to keep our spirits up, our community will be lifted as well."
CAPTION: Betty Jean Roberts, the club president, and handyman Earl Wright Jr. help make the 3800 10th Street Block Club and Petworth work.