Our First Donation: Old West End Neighborhood Initiative

OWENI old west end neighborhood initiatives

The Inaugural Edition of Brick X Brick is raising funds to benefit The Old West End Neighborhood Initiatives (OWENI). OWENI is a group of concerned and united parents, activists, residents, and community leaders that have worked together to fight for viable economic, cultural, political, educational and social opportunities for their residents. They work to collaborate with other neighborhoods and to involve area youth in creative placemaking projects, public murals, community events and policy activism as well as property maintenance and community assistance for elderly or temporarily impoverished individuals.

OWENI works toward valuable goals in our city.

  • Safety for our residents
  • education and activities for our adults and children,
  • vibrant business growth, development and employment
  • community and involvement with our citizens.

OWENI was kind enough to allow me to present a freshly formed vision of my idea for Brick X Brick to them at one of their meetings at the Kent Branch Public Library. They kindly let me bumble my way through an explanation of the project and what I hoped to achieve, and they gave me feedback on the project and it's conception. A key stand out to me while conversing with them were two aspects of their programing.

My mission for the use of bricks from blight properties is to help us transform the face of these forgotten buildings into a creative path to finding the future. By intervening with these form and returning value to initiatives working to counteract social and economic malaise we repurpose them meaningfully. OWENI holds two programs that stood out to me in this regard.

Teens are paid a stipend to mow and maintain properties in their neighborhood which serves to keep property value up and help guard the wealth of community members. Keeping youth engaged and active with their neighbors and their neighborhood is a viable step towards increasing accountability and cohesion. Teens also hand deliver newsletters to residents, increasing familiarity and fraternity amongst the neighborhood. And lastly, OWENI targets homes most in need of repair and maintenance and least able to accomplish these tasks. Dependent on funds availability, they show up and repaint and repair homes for the elderly or impoverished.

Frankly, I was astounded by these acts of kindness and generosity. I began to feel throughout listening to them that if I could use my talents and skills to generate value that would further their mission then Brick X Brick would be on the right path. To see leadership that acts on behalf of a group as a way of being and puts their friends, family, and neighbors first is humbling. Design can be a solo road a lot of the time, and the humanity of what we do can sometimes be lost in late nights in front of glowing screens or cutting boards. For me, their work is a serendipitous alignment of goals and values that suits Brick X Brick perfectly.

OWENI works in tandem with Americorps and LISC. AmeriCorps is a civil society program supported by the U.S. federal government, foundations, corporations, and other donors engaging adults in intensive community service work with the goal of "helping others and meeting critical needs in the community." LISC equips struggling communities with the capital, strategy and know-how to become places where people can thrive. Working with local leaders LISC invests in housing, health, education, public safety and employment - all basic needs that must be tackled as one so that progress in one is not undermined by neglect in another.

OWENI leadership is working in tandem with many organizations including Neighborworks Toledo and the Toledo Community Foundation as they make progress toward answers for important questions:

  • How can the area establish influence on business?
  • How can we foster entrepreneurship in the neighborhoods?
  • How can the community begin the process of retraining workers if they don’t know what jobs are going to be available? 

They don't leave these questions open ended, either. Working to provide input and council to stakeholders in large redevelopment projects at sites such as the former Overland Industrial Park, an 80-acre stretch of land that is now being rebuilt into an innovative business park is a necessary aspect of sustainable development and city planning. Residents needs and real world uses need to be balanced with the agenda and long term goals of development, and engaged citizens provide this input. OWENI also works with associations cataloging the vacant properties in the city, helping to facilitate inspection and audit and if necessary subsequent demolition. Part of the process of rebuilding a city and a community starts by cleaning up the area. There are many groups and associations deserving of support all working together to accomplish big goals. I'm proud to support an association made up of parents, residents and community leaders like this working on the ground level with youth to make a concrete impact on our communities. We all strive for a healthy, happy, safe and vibrant space to live. We can get there, brick x brick.

chris hatfield