The University of Vermont’s Office of Student and Community Relations (OSCR) and the Neighborhood Group Isham Street Gardening and Other Optimistic Doings (ISGOOD) were recently awarded a $2,250 Grow Grant from the New England Grassroots Environment Fund.
The grant will fund materials to expand their work from Isham Street in Burlington, where they’ve focused in the past, to neighboring Hickok Place.
When Hickok Place residents and landlords saw the positive impacts on Isham Street from ISGOOD’s efforts, they wanted the same for their street. ISGOOD and OSCR responded by developing an action plan with their guidance fortified by funding from the Grow Grant and a landlord motivated to make change for his tenants on Hickok Place.
Work on Isham Street began 10 years ago with OSCR’s Community Coalition teaming up with Brian Cina and Phil Hammerslough, residents of Isham Street and the co-founders of ISGOOD. The Coalition is composed of UVM and Champlain College students, staff, and administrators, neighbors, landlords, and Burlington city officials and staff.
Focusing on topics ranging from housing problems to quality-of-life issues, members developed a street strategy as a community development pilot project. Using concepts such as collective efficacy, restorative practices, community-based research, and crime prevention through Environment Design 2.0, the strategy was later recognized as a best practice in Burlington’s Neighborhood Project Plan.
With help from groups and organizations, ISGOOD has been successful in cultivating community and relationships through gardening. Volunteers from UVM’s Upward Bound, the Summer Enrichment Scholars Program, TREK, the Burlington Health and Rehabilitation Center, and many others, have and continue to help the group and their mission thrive. In addition, a landlord donated central community garden was established in 2012 with an AARP grant also being secured that year.
In the spring of 2017, an Isham Street resident and UVM student applied for ISGOOD’s first awarded Grow Grant to complete gardens on the east side of the street. Most recently, UVM’s University Relations office provided funding to complete the gardening on the west side of the Street.
Through community gardening, positive relationships, and inviting people in, a traditionally transient crime heavy street had people now engaging with each other in a way they never had before. ISGOOD hosts annual Welcome to the Street events for new renters and carries out random acts of kindness throughout the year, like delivering Welcome Bags with resources in the fall, snow shovels in the winter, and potted house plants in the spring.
These efforts have resulted in a 50 percent reduction in burglaries, a 68 percent decrease in noise and an 86 percent reduction in vandalism (2012 to 2015 data from Burlington Police Department). The newfound sense of community and belonging and the increased safety net on the street has led to students renting for 2 years instead of the usual one year, and some shift in the street demographics. For instance, a family with young children has moved to the street in large part because of the sense of community.
With the new grant, OSCR and ISGOOD will continue this community-building model for its adjacent neighbors, with the intent to create a safe, resilient, and healthy neighborhood for all residents in this highly impacted area of the City.