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Cops put on hard hats to provide housing, discourage crime

by Jessica De Leon


BRADENTON - Committed to bringing down crime in the city, Bradenton police officers and employees put on hard hats and helped build one of the latest Habitat for Humanity homes.

About 25 members of the Bradenton Police Department joined forces with Habitat for Humanity volunteers on Thursday morning to help build a duplex in the 2200 block of 10th Street West.

“This has been an ongoing project, and we went out, picked up our hammers and got to work,” spokesman Lt. Brian Thiers told the Bradenton Herald after work had been completed for the day.

Officers and police personnel helped Habitat volunteers with siding, framing and painting.

“We had a great time,” Thiers said of their work with “a great organization. We worked well together.”

Thiers commended Habitat’s volunteers for the amount of time and effort put into their projects.

“It was a great honor to be able to join with them, to work in our city, the city we keep safe. And today, we got to build a little of it,” Thiers said.

The duplex, which will provide homes for two single mothers and their children, is part of new construction projects that are being built in an area of the city that for years has been a high-crime area.

“It’s part of a concerted effort to rebuild this area,” said Bruce Winter, construction director for Manatee County Habitat for Humanity. “To have the support of the police, fire department and code enforcement here in the city of Bradenton allows us to come into this neighborhood and help to revitalize it.”

The duplex comprises the third and fourth dwellings built in the Midtown Bradenton and Village of the Arts neighborhoods. Previous projects have been built in the village, and future projects have also been planned, according to Winter. One of the homes is part of the organization’s Women’s Build project, for which Police Chief Melanie Bevan is the co-leader.

In addition to the labor Bradenton police officers provided, their mere presence has aided the project. Thursday morning, the block where the duplex is located was lined with police cars, and other officers who were on duty regularly patrolled the area.

The increased patrols, not just during building time, has really aided in controlling vandalism and theft of building materials, which is often a struggle, Winter said.

Bradenton police officers intend on continuing to work with Habitat, Thiers said, and they looking forward to helping other families have a fresh start while helping to clean up the neighborhood.

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Raise your voices for affordable housing -- for everyone


FILE PHOTO: Terrill Symons talks about the solar panels on the roof of his Habitat for Humanity home. Manatee County Habitat for Humanity is focused on making sustainable home building and repairs. Tiffany Tompkins This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This week (July 22-29) has been National Housing Week of Action. Rallies and events took place nationwide, bringing attention to the growing affordable housing challenges in cities throughout the U.S. The campaign “Our Homes, Our Voices” raises concerns about the significant reductions to federal funding for HUD and the USDA programs. Advocates are urging Congress to “lift the low spending caps and fully invest in affordable housing resources” to help economically vulnerable families keep a roof over their heads and help communities thrive.

Manatee County Habitat for Humanity benefits from Community Development Block Grants (CDBG), a program of HUD and administered by our local municipalities. Funding has helped us build 18 Habitat homes in Ellenton and acquire property in Bradenton to build affordable homes in a neighborhood in much need of revitalization.

At Habitat, we believe everyone deserves a decent place to live. Over the past 23 years, our homebuyer program has enabled 127 families to do just that. An investment in affordable housing pays off with the long-term benefits of increased economic mobility, improved health and higher educational achievement for children and families. In addition, communities that invest in affordable housing infrastructure generate more jobs, boost family income and further encourage development.

The affordable housing crisis is big, and slashing federal programs that have kept families stable is a huge step backwards. Finding long-term sustainable solutions will require all of us working together at the local, state and federal level to make decent shelter — not a privilege for some, but attainable for all.

Diana Shoemaker, Executive Director, Manatee County Habitat for Humanity

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Manatee County Habitat for Humanity Dedicates Second New Home in Bradenton

Barb Inman Rep Boyd Didi Hager

Rep. Jim Boyd receives a plaque from Habitat for Humanity Florida President Barb Inman, (left) for being a Housing Champion 2017 with  Didi Hager, Manatee Habitat Community Programs Manager (right).

Bradenton, Florida (June 22, 2017) – Manatee County Habitat for Humanity dedicated the second new home in Bradenton near Village of Arts with some special guests in attendance on June 10.  State Rep. Jim Boyd was there to congratulate Nicole Hamilton and her family on their new home.  Barbara Inman, President and CEO of Habitat Florida also joined the celebration along with Hamilton family guests, representatives of  Beall’s the Home Sponsor, Manatee Habitat staff, board members and volunteers.   

“It is a pleasure to be here for this dedication and to have the opportunity to thank Representative Boyd for his leadership and support of affordable housing on the state level.   Florida builds more Habitat homes than any other state for several reasons. Of course, the weather is a big reason, and another is the Community Contribution Tax Credit Program the Florida Legislature supports to help communities build affordable housing,” Ms. Inman said.

Beall’s sponsored the new home at 2206 10th St. West and participates in the Community Contribution Tax Credit Program that also requires the company to provide volunteers to help build the house.  Cheryl Woeltjen, Beall’s Public and Government Relations Director, attended the dedication with several of the Beall’s employees who volunteered more than 200 hours on the home’s construction. “Beall’s employees stepped forwarded for this opportunity and loved doing it.  It was not difficult to find volunteers and many came out more than once,” Ms. Woeltjen said.  

Nicoles family in front of house

Nicole Hamilton with children Aunica 15, Ailish 9, and son Cadian 10 in front of her new Habitat home dedicated June 10.

This is 127th house Manatee Habitat has built since it was founded in 1994.  Nicole Hamilton and her four children are anxious for the day they can move in.  “I am so excited to finally be able to have our own home.  My kids have been very supportive. All the time I was away working on the house they took care of each other,” Nicole said.  Nicole entered the Habitat home buyer program in February of 2015 and has been working steadily towards achieving the goal of home ownership.  Nicole has taken home ownership classes and financial literacy to prepare to be a home owner.  She is now qualified to purchase her Habitat home with 0% interest mortgage.

A Manatee Habitat home is designed to be sustainable and energy efficient with a lifetime galvanized metal roof, insulated walls made of ICF Block (Insulated Concrete Form) and Hardiboard siding on the exterior.  Electric bills in Habitat homes are typically less than $70 a month. Grants from Publix Super Market Charities and Peace River Electric Cooperative contributed to the completion the house.

Cheryl Woeltjen

Cheryl Woeltjen, Beall’s Public and Government Relations Director, receives a framed photo of the Hamilton family and home from Amy Van Dell, Manatee Habitat.

Manatee County Habitat for Humanity received funds from a City of Bradenton Community Block Grant  to purchase vacant lots in this neighborhood and build new homes.  Two homes have been built, two are currently under construction and two more are planned to break ground in the fall in this neighborhood.  All of the planned homes have Habitat home buyers in the program. 

Grassroots effort to revitalize Washington Park area begins with Tropicana financial boost

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Confucius once said the longest journey begins with the first step, and if Tuesday’s gathering was any indication, a first step has been taken from a grassroots level to revitalize East Bradenton’s Washington Park neighborhood.

Residents were outnumbered by outside agencies, business and church representatives hoping to see the effort flourish. But a handful is a good start, said Didi Hager, program manager for Habitat for Humanity. Hager initiated the neighborhood effort after scouring the neighborhood for potential Habitat home sites and meeting the people within the neighborhood trying to make a difference.

Among the attendees was Tropicana’s Tony Griffin, who announced that Tropicana is donating $2,700 toward the purchase of a grill and picnic tables the community hopes to use to establish a safe place for children to eat, play and study the Bible. It’s another step, and yes, for the residents of Washington Park, a giant leap toward early goals.

Hager said only four people attended the first community meeting a couple of months back, but the small assembly area at St. Stephen AME Church on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard was filled Tuesday with at least 20 people looking to make a difference.

“I know this has to work,” Hager said. “God never lets us down. We have targeted this neighborhood because there is leadership here. We have to have so many in things in place that can make a difference, but what we need is input from the community.”

Tuesday’s gathering was intended to begin that process and to learn from the residents what their greatest assets are, and what they are lacking.

“It’s not our job to come in and tell you what you need, so we want to know what you need and then we can work together,” she said.

One of her greatest assets is Washington Park’s May Lizzie Jennings, who organizes neighborhood cleanups. She does it out of her faith in God and a “Love thy neighbor” biblical philosophy. Tropicana also is donating lawn equipment to help Jennings and her small army of volunteers make a further dent in the cleanup efforts.

West Bradenton Crime Watch founder Tami Goudy is one of several people looking to get involved. Goudy spearheads several programs that teach communities how to protect themselves and one another.

“It’s something we have forgotten how to do,” Goudy said. “Over the years, we have just gone inside and look out for ourselves, and that’s not good.”

Bradenton Police Officer Jeff Cox also was on hand and has worked the Washington Park area for the past seven years.

Cox said programs like Goudy’s play “an important role, even for us. I grew up in this area. It’s pretty essential because once neighbors start getting to know their neighbors, they see what’s normal and what’s not. They see something different in the community and then tend to call us more.”

Getting people involved is the challenge, but Jennings believes God will direct this effort to grow.

“The most important thing is hands on hands and knock on doors and do it by word of mouth,” Jennings said. “We have not because we ask not. People will not say anything, they will suffer when there is help available, but we are all God’s children and we can make a difference.”

The Manatee County Department of Health also wants in on the ground floor of revitalizing Washington Park. Keisha Gains said the department just finished a community garden in another community and would like to do the same for Washington Park.

“We also oversee a community health plan, and I’ll share at the next meeting what we came up with from other community feedback,” Gains said. “I would love to hear more feedback from these residents on how we can help bring whatever you need to this area in relation to health.”

Residents attending said their biggest concern is for the community’s children. The nearest park is too far away, and reaching it means crossing busy roadways that virtually circle the Washington Park neighborhood.

“I’m hoping we are consistent and the group will grow, and that those who are here will stay committed,” Hager said. “This will grow and take on a life of its own. That’s my goal, to build a coalition that helps to build a safer and better neighborhood.”

The next meeting is at 6 p.m. Aug. 8 at St. Stephen AME Church, 629 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

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Coalition of love sought to help revitalize neighborhood

lizziemayby Mark Young

It only takes a hug from East Bradenton resident May Lizzie Jennings, the unofficial mayor of her impoverished community in Washington Park, to know you are loved. The 71-year-old exudes faith in God and takes the Biblical command of “Love thy neighbor” to a whole new level.

“Everybody says they love the Lord, but don’t love the people around you,” Jennings said. “How do you say you love the Lord and don’t love His people?”

Jennings is on a mission to spread that love throughout her neighborhood, and it’s a mission noticed by Habitat for Humanity’s program manager, Didi Boyd Hager. Habitat is partnering with Jennings to form a new coalition to identify Washington Park assets, enhance them and determine what the community needs. Habitat is focusing on specific areas of the neighborhood and identifying vacant lots for potential purchase.

“We are looking at the whole community, but targeting this area for new construction,” Hager said. “This is just the beginning of activity. We are looking for other people to get involved in this grassroots effort to help this neighborhood, and hopefully build a coalition behind that. Habitat can only be a spoke in the wheel. We can’t be the whole wheel.”

Jennings takes it upon herself, along with family and a small group of volunteers, to make a dent in some of the neighborhood blight. Whether it’s mowing someone’s lawn, cleaning up trash, washing someone’s windows or delivering food to her neighbors, she refuses to live in a run-down neighborhood, which is bordered on the north by Ninth Avenue East, on the east by Ninth Street East, on the south by 13th Avenue West and the west by First Street.

According to a 2013 city of Bradenton housing stock assessment, the overall condition of Washington Park homes ranges from average to good, but most homes did fail at least one criteria of the study.

“There is a strong need for various repairs throughout the neighborhood,” the report states.

The city funds housing rehab projects through federal Community Development Block Grant dollars and Florida’s State Housing Initiative Partnership program, but those funds have dwindled over the years. Jennings says the city does a very good job servicing the neighborhood, but she isn’t looking to rely on government.

“People expect officials to do it for them, but it’s not officials’ responsibilities,” she said. “It’s neighbors helping neighbors. We go in and check the properties and see what needs to be done, knock on doors and see how we can help. People may drive by a house and see it run-down, but you don’t know the story of what’s going inside the home without knocking on the door.”

Jennings often finds someone elderly on disability or a working family struggling to make ends meet, “so we come and do it for them. Those who are able to help, do what little they can. I can’t give up. It’s your neighbor and you have to do something about it. You have to reach out and touch their lives.”

According to 2010 U.S. Census, the neighborhood has transformed from elderly in the 1990s to a younger and more diverse population. The average age range in the community is 45- 54 years old, with 23.6 percent identifying as white, 56.3 percent identifying as black and 36.8 percent identifying as Hispanic.

Market value for homes in Washington Park has risen, but more than 40 percent of the neighborhood’s homes are valued under $100,000. The median household income is about $35,000.

While Washington Park has had reputation issues pertaining to crime, it’s no more than usual, according to Bradenton Police Department Assistant Chief Josh Cramer. He said the bulk of the criminal activity typically occurs on the district’s fringes along the main traffic corridors and not necessarily within the residential areas of the district.

Jennings said there are too many people in her community who have lost hope. But she goes “street by street to show people there is hope if we work together. Everybody wants to blame the government, but oh no, it’s the people and we are God’s people. You have more people paying attention to the president instead of paying attention to God and don’t want to embrace one another.”

On a recent weekday, Jennings walked the neighborhood looking to see what needed to be cleaned up. She found a group of men standing around so she gave them trash bags and six rakes, and put them to work.

“They grumble, but they do it,” she said. “I take them water and soda and tell them it will be McDonald’s for lunch at noon. We have fun doing it. Sometimes we run head-to-head with people, but we work it out.”

Tropicana is chipping in for the effort, donating money for lawn equipment and picnic tables that Jennings hopes to use for Bible study classes for the neighborhood children. The small coalition recently met for the first time with only four people attending.

“It’s a challenge to get people involved,” Hager said. “As with anything, it takes time to build trust. We have a small knitted group of women already working together, and my goal is to take that group and expand it and hopefully it takes seed and grows. There is just a lot of potential here and a lot of good people in this neighborhood. If we can tap into those resources and the assets that are here, then we can expand on that.”

The community meetings are designed to bring the residents together to identify what will make their community better. They want to work with outside individuals and agencies that can then bring expertise to resolve those needs. And Jennings hopes to see the young community get involved, as well.

“We need people with a vision,” she said. “God gave everyone a gift, so let’s put those gifts to work. It’s a blessing to help somebody. That’s what it’s all about. It’s all about planting a seed and that’s something we have strayed so far away from.”

Beginning July11, the coalition will meet the second Tuesday of each month. Hager’s goal is to listen to the residents and not try to determine or guess what they may need. That can include a wide array of things, she says, from housing, to playgrounds to safety.

Hager is the point person for the coalition-building effort and can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 941-748-9100 ext. 102.

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