How a Florida City’s “roving band of itinerant landscapers” is proving that “Local Works.”

By Connie Barron
City of Cape Coral

Special to Keep It Local, Florida

We’ve all felt the impacts of the “Great Recession” somehow. But few Florida communities have been hit harder than Cape Coral, which was ranked among the top cities in the nation for foreclosures. As the housing market crumbled, blight spread.

To date, the program has cleaned and mowed more than 1,000 propertiesWe quickly realized that this major challenge could not be overcome by a single program or agency. Abandoned properties were multiplying, blight was growing and resources were dwindling. We needed a strong, cohesive, community-led program to save our city.

That’s when “Take Pride in the Cape” was born.

The brainchild of Cape Coral Councilwoman Gloria Tate, the plea went out for help from the community – a plea to take the situation and turn it into a positive by finding an opportunity to build a better sense of community. In quick order, a recently retired code enforcement supervisor took the lead in organizing a group of volunteers to take pride in their community, give back to their city and create a program that would have a lasting, positive effect.

Affectionately referred to as our “roving band of itinerant landscapers,” the “Take Pride in the Cape” volunteers were established in 2009. They focused on cleaning up and mowing abandoned properties, the most visible signs of the troubles our city was facing, to protect Cape Coral from the effects of blight.

The timing couldn’t have been better. It helped to inspire pride throughout the community in difficult times, when communities were being tested by the economy. The program brought the community together. Residents quickly started to get to work, mowing and cleaning on Fridays and Saturdays. At first, it was a couple of volunteers. Then several more people joined the effort. Now the city has a number of groups working together.

To date, the program has cleaned and mowed more than 1,000 properties. When factoring in everything contributed to this project, “Take Pride in the Cape” has saved local taxpayers more than $1 million. The program also has played a vital role in protecting the community from blight. The volunteers have inspired other community groups and churches to follow their lead. Take Pride in the Cape has become a major reason why the City of Cape Coral not only maintained a high quality of life through the foreclosure crisis but has become a top real estate market with improving signs of growth and opportunity. Cape Coral has become the tip of the spear for the recovery.

The volunteers used their own equipment, paid for their own gas and got to work. As the program progressed, their efforts attracted attention from others. They soon received assistance from the city’s waste hauler, which agreed to haul away debris and trash at no charge to taxpayers. The city’s current waste hauler has continued providing that assistance and has also donated equipment – a trailer and supplies.

“Take Pride in the Cape” is truly a community inspiration, with successes visible throughout our beautiful city. They built a sense of community in a time when communities were stressed, and they continue to work weekly, holding the course, looking for new projects and challenges.

Everyday, these inspiring volunteers show us that local communities can pull together in times of hardship. They’re proving that community works; grassroots government works; local works.

CONNIE BARRON is a special correspondent for Keep It Local, Florida and a public information director for the City of Cape Coral.

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