Thirty-two years ago, Lori Appledoorn moved to her home in Holland, MI, and has been there ever since. While she may have stayed in the same house, her neighborhood is hardly recognizable as the same place it was when she first moved. Upon arriving in the area, Lori and her husband David knew that there was a lot of work to be done, but they saw the potential and were willing to take their chances.
Near Lori’s house, there is an alleyway that that leads to many of her neighbors’ homes. Many neighborhood residents would dump their trash over the fences into the alley. Lori thought, “We live here, and we can choose to either have a crappy alley or we can choose to have a nice alley.” Lori chose a nice alley and started off by picking up the trash and planting some flowers. Pretty soon, other neighbors started to show interest and Lori invited them to help her.
The project quickly gained momentum and Lori and her neighbors discovered that the city of Holland offered a mini-grant for people interested in improving their neighborhoods. They joined forces with 3sixty and applied and received the grant amount of $1,500, which gave them the resources they needed to expand this project even more. With the money, they were able to add five raised garden beds that they would use to grow fruits and vegetables. The residents doing this work decided to call themselves “Rally for the Alley.”
Finding Support to Help It Grow
Not only did this allow for anyone passing through the alley to have access to the fresh food growing there, but it also opened more possibilities for the neighbors to engage with one another. For the following year, Rally for the Alley decided that they could and would do even more. They applied for another grant with the city and received an additional $1,500 for the second phase. With this, they added more raised beds and a rain barrel collection system to reuse rain water to water the plants. They also expanded by adding vertical trellises along the sides of garages to make the most of the alley’s space.
Before getting involved with the organization 3sixty, Lori wasn’t aware that the neighborhood that she lived in actually had a name: Eastcore. After connecting with Lori, 3sixty provided support to Eastcore, such as volunteers, that helped to build the raised beds and advance the projects they were working on. Lori and 3sixty ended up working together on another grant, this time from the State of Michigan. The grant was from MSHDA (Michigan State Housing Development Authority) called Neighborhood Enhancement Program (NEP). They received an award of $10,000 to put towards alley improvements, which gave them the opportunity to expand their vision past the alley and into other areas.
With the expanded resources, they were able to turn a handful of overlooked areas into something beautiful and beneficial for the community. On the corner of 18th and Central, they designed and built a labyrinth. At the cul-de-sacs on 19th street, they put in a pollinator garden. They’ve also put benches in for those that want to visit and hang out.
To Lori, something that stands out is that is how engaged the kids are. They can enjoy these green spaces and explore nature while learning about nutrition and growing their own food. They’re developing these healthy eating habits and gaining a desire for exploration and community engagement that they will carry with them through adulthood.
Something else that Lori reflects on is not only the big ways that the community has changed but the little things, too.
When she first moved to Eastcore, it was rare that someone would drive by and wave to you. Now, everyone waves to one another. Lori describes how this project blossomed into something more. “There is a real sense of togetherness that has developed through these community projects. All the residents here come from a different life journey, and, without these projects, they probably wouldn’t have met or gotten to know each other. Now, we make sure that everyone is taken care of and when someone needs help, we all come together to make it happen.”
When one of the residents wanted more privacy in her backyard, Lori and other neighbors came together to construct a beautiful fence made of different colored wine bottles. Everyone in the neighborhood was dropping off wine bottles and contributing, resulting in a really beautiful final product.
Another neighbor had a major surgery and was feeling down, but she would get out of bed to see the gardens. Her husband pointed out to Lori how much of a positive impact it had on her to be able to look out the window and see the flowers or go for a walk to pick some tomatoes. She later confided in Lori and said that she had been depressed but it was the gardens and talking with neighbors in these spaces that helped to change that.
Seeing Community Blossom
While it’s nice to see how these gardens and spaces improve the appearance of the area,
these projects are so much more than that. Lori emphasizes that, “It’s really about humanity and just being out with each other. Everybody gets together and has so much fun. Because of this work, we now know our neighbors and if we are ever in a jam, night or day, we know that our neighbors are going to have our back.”
For Eastcore, Lori is grateful that the State of Michigan was willing to provide funding and she hopes that they continue to support similar initiatives. A lot of community businesses also supported these projects including Andy Mast Greenhouse, Jonker’s Garden, Robin’s Flower Gardens, Heinz, and Permaloc, who heard about the projects and wanted to contribute.
Lori sees a variety of added interests coming from the local residents on all of these ongoing projects, which they will continue to work together on in the years to come. She says, “People need to have that sense of community and purpose, and when they get together, they can do amazing things. With this work, you always have to think positive and remember that everything you are doing is for the long haul and it won’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of patience and love, but it is incredibly worth it.”