Neighborhood Hero Program
In 2015 Project Acclaim hosted its fifth year of curb appeal awards called the Neighborhood Hero Program. The award started in Joliet’s Council Districts Four and Five, the east side. Neighborhood Hero spotlighted residents who overcame the issues of abandoned homes, unemployment, food deserts, crime, gangs, and the angst of living in Joliet’s oldest and poorest neighborhood. The once proud east side with its mansions and broad streets had been home to Joliet’s elite. A man proclaimed to me that he would never live east of Essington Road. Property values alone do not make a community. The truth about neighborhood blight is if you permit it, then you promote it.
Neighborhood Hero’s small beginning looked for them who took pride in their property. With color and yard élan, they displayed pride for their street, neighborhood, and community as a whole. We placed Neighborhood Hero yard signs there. Neighbors might wonder how to gain such an honor. Neighborhood Heroes might transform a block with color, horticulture, planning, and bursting pride. The working theory is that good can be contagious. One honoree last year stated, “…those boys (gang members) down on the corner will not drive us away from our property. We are here to stay.” They have resided there 28 years. Their neighbor across the street also earned the award.
The inevitable expansion of Neighborhood Hero into the other Council Districts started three years ago. We also named Neighborhood Heroes in New Lenox, Shorewood, and Plainfield. Two families received the award the first year; last year eight awards were made. This year there have been a record 27 nominees. The Mayor and City Manager of Joliet support the program. A Council member has joined our judging team.
A critique last year suggested the winners did not meet the concept of a hero. True, they are not first responders, but our Heroes are in it for the long haul whatever it takes. I’d like to double down on the hero concept. Yard horticulture is not for everyone. Flowers and paint may not alter the assessed value of property. Keeping your home and property well maintained however is a signal that you are here to stay. As long as you are going to live here, you might as well live as well as you can. Joliet and our communities in Will County hold ground, proud and welcoming of your roots.
The essence of Neighborhood Hero is pride of ownership and community. Flowers are the flags of our heroes. Here is where they have planted their flag and where they will raise their families.