Despite the hot sun and warm temperatures, 200 volunteers were hard at work last week painting, hammering, and sawing at several projects in the Fairmont neighborhood in unincorporated Lockport Township. The week was the kick-off of the Fairmont Redevelopment Program and the volunteers, representing the Reach Mission ministry, came from the local area and around the country.
“This is all about improving the quality of life for these residents,” said Will County Executive Larry Walsh. “These days, as government must continue to do more with less resources, partnerships like this are invaluable to serve our constituents.”
According to Ron Pullman, director of the Community Development Division within Will County’s Land Use Department, this project is being used to kick off a three to five year redevelopment program in Fairmont. The program is an effort to implement elements of an overall Fairmont Plan developed by neighborhood residents, business owners, and County staff.
“This particular project began last year when Messiah Lutheran Church reached out to the County seeking an area in need,” Pullman said. “We began accepting applications from low income homeowners who needed assistance with upgrades to their residences. We received applications from 65 homeowners in the Fairmont area and our intent is to assist all who qualify for the program.”
With limited funding, the Community Development Division was fortunate to be able to partner with the Will County Center for Community Concerns, Habitat for Humanity, Share Fest New Lenox and the Reach Mission, a nationwide agency that seeks local agencies to partner with and offer week long mission trips for teens to provide service in low income communities. Through this cooperative effort, the partnership has been able to obtain supplies and equipment at reduced costs and utilize the assistance of the teen workers.
With the support of the County Executive’s Office and the County Board, the Land Use Department has been able to leverage $1 million in seed capital to sustain this program over the next three to five years.
“We have received donations of lumber and other supplies from local businesses and a large number of local contractors have donated their time to help renovate these homes,” said Pullman.
Larry Holman, a U.S. Army veteran, has lived in his Fairmont home, which was built in 1906, for the last 14 years. He said he appreciates the help from the Reach Mission volunteers and the Land Use Department.
“I’m a widower and I live alone on a fixed income,” Holman said. “I needed repairs to my stairs and the upstairs bathroom. These volunteers have been so helpful to me. These repairs will let me keep living in my house.”
Pullman said this project is part of a much larger, redevelopment project for the Fairmont neighborhood that seeks to accomplish goals set out in the County’s Fairmont Plan. The neighborhood, which lies in an unincorporated area, also lacks basic services such as storm sewer improvements and economic development opportunities.
Virgil Kemp’s group “Helpers of Mother Earth” began in the early spring with several weeks of clean up.
“There are also many abandoned homes which can also lead to other potential dangers,” Kemp said. “With the support of County Executive Walsh and the County Board, we have plans for flood remediation and other green infrastructure and economic development that will help improve this neighborhood.”
Dalinda Herrod, president of the Fairmont Community Partnership, Inc., has lived in her home for more than 43 years. She said the partnership was established to help residents take pride in their community and their homes.
“We appreciate the support of Will County helping us improve our neighborhood,” she said. “We are very thankful for these great volunteers who have been here this week to help us with much needed repairs.”
Pullman said the county will continue to assist as many residents as possible with the funding available. The Land Use Department will finish any projects remaining after the volunteers leave next week.
“The residents in the Fairmont neighborhood have made due for so long it is definitely time for us to assist them all we can,” he said. “I am so proud that our not for profit partners have stepped up to accomplish the work we have started, but there is still much to be done for this area.”
For more information about this project or to volunteer or donate, contact the Will County Land Use Department at (815) 774-3321.