A community-enriching outreach effort shows in rather dramatic fashion how people helping people can become a powerful force in restoring the health and welfare of a neighborhood. Adopt A Block is composed of volunteers from various churches around Manatee County who spend time on neighborhood improvements, assisting the needy and simply engaging residents in friendly and meaningful ways.
Several months ago, five churches joined forces in one Adopt A Block program serving West Bradenton, Pride Park and Palmetto on a weekly basis.
Volunteers from First Baptist of Palmetto, Mount Carmel, North River, Bayside Community and Sarasota Baptist churches strive to build relationships and foster goodwill in order to instill a greater sense of community among neighbors and reduce crime and blight. It's working.
The Manatee County YMCA launched a similar program several years ago. Between them, Neighborhood Renewal and Adopt A Block employ the efforts of 14 churches.
The Adopt A Block ministry began in the inner city of Los Angeles two decades ago, spreading its wings over the past dozen years to 35 sites over 85 blocks.
In the spirit of service, some 500 volunteers gather every Saturday morning to clean homes, paint over graffiti, visit the elderly, organize games for children and assist the needy.
One particular Manatee County success story can be found at Palmetto's Oakridge Apartments, where for the past two years Bayside Community Church members have cooked and served pancakes every Saturday morning. They also coach soccer teams, steering one boy away from constant fighting and into appropriate socializing.
But our favorite story, recounted by Herald reporter Elizabeth Johnson in an article last Sunday that covered the previous day's outreach, is about a woman wheel-chair bound after a stroke. Church members connected her with nursing assistance, and she's now quite mobile with a cane.
"When she sees us, her face shines," Juan Morales told Johnson. A priceless, life-altering impact indeed.
Bayside's commendable commitment to Oakridge extends to other kinds of personal assistance as well as donations of food and other goods. And cleaning up the neighborhood.
Palmetto's First Baptist Church conducts a similar outreach in another neighborhood with pancakes, games and socializing -- "to show people in the community they are loved," said Andy Minor, a church and YMCA board member.
Today, that block in Thomas Estates no longer suffers from gang members, drug dealers and crime. Children play outside in a cleaner neighborhood.
This outstanding turnaround demonstrates the power of neighbor helping neighbor in the struggle to overcome sinister forces. Kudos to these church communities busy raising up neighborhoods and filling so many human needs.