StoryCorps Door-to-Door recently took a trip to Chicago for two days of interviews with chief service officers from Cities of Service, a non-profit program that establishes a coalition of volunteers in cities throughout the country to address the unique challenges within individual communities. Mayors from select cities hire chief service officers to organize programs and volunteers that will best meet the community’s needs. Rebecca Delphia of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Marcia Hope Goodwin of Orlando, Florida, were two CSOs who came to StoryCorps to tell the story of their cities’ progress during their two-year tenure.
Rebecca calls Pittsburgh “a city of neighbors helping neighbors.” The city has lost half its population in the last 50 years, leaving neighborhoods with an increasing number of vacant lots and abandoned houses. Rebecca described Brighton Heights, a neighborhood that once thrived but has since suffered a similar fate, as an example of the change they wanted to create through Cities of Service. She told the story of Kelly, one volunteer who went door-to-door asking neighbors to help remove the excess rainwater from a vacant lot that had become a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Kelly and other volunteers soon created a rain garden from the runoff, turning a hazardous eyesore into a community asset.
A thousand miles away from Pittsburgh, Marcia has worked to change her own community in Orlando by helping government and community leaders provide a variety of services that focus on the city’s youth. These past two years, volunteers have established a community garden in Parramore, a neighborhood that Marcia describes as a “food desert” because of its limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. “One of the kids thought that okra came from a frozen packet,” Marcia told Rebecca, as many of the local young people have not been exposed to diverse food environments. But by the end of the 10-week project, children are aware of a much larger variety of fruits and vegetables, and the community hosts a harvest celebration. “What we are finding are there are children who are tasting vegetables they’ve never tasted before. So, they are getting a chance to use the vegetables in foods that they can eat at home. They love seeing the fruits of their labor, getting to have a harvest, and get a chance to eat what they’ve grown.”
Rebecca and Marcia cite the work of their communities’ volunteers for inspiring their own efforts everyday. “It’s about our neighborhoods,” Rebecca says, “but it’s about our city’s future.”