Habitat board member Lee Bass shows a neighbor her new porch!
Q&A with Andrea Newton, Neighborhood Revitalization Director
Today is the Third Annual North Little Rock "Rock the Block" Day, a day to honor the work of the Baring Cross residents and Habitat for Humanity of Central Arkansas. We have worked together for almost three years in an effort to build strength, stability, and self-reliance through shelter in Baring Cross. We are so grateful for our donors and volunteers who have made this possible, and for our fearless leader, Andrea Newton. Andrea has poured her heart and soul into the Neighborhood Revitalization program for years, and spearheaded the Rock the Block effort such that it has grown into a huge quarterly event. We got her out of her safety harness and hard hat for a few minutes to talk about and reflect upon Rock the Block's growth.
What were your hopes for Rock the block when you first started the program?
I’ve always been a dreamer, and while it would make for a good story for me to say I had hopes to paint a few houses and bring about a sense of neighborhood pride, that would be wrong. From the beginning, I had every intention of making this program huge, and thanks to our Baring Cross neighbors and amazing volunteers, it is. But this program is really about the hopes of our Baring Cross neighbors. It has always been about their hopes and dreams. The end goal has always been to make Baring Cross a place where neighbors work together to create the safe, beautiful, and vibrant homes for their families. Rock the Block is just an avenue to help them achieve that.
How have you seen the Rock the Block program grow?
We got the idea for Rock the Block from a Habitat affiliate in Des Moines where they perform several exterior repair projects with a larger group of volunteers. I didn’t feel like that would work for our affiliate because most of our regular volunteers are weekend warriors with jobs during the week. So, I decided to try to throw a wide net out and just ask everyone that I knew to come help on a weekend. And they did! Ben E. Keith donated food and water (which they still do to this day,) St. James held a carnival for the neighborhood kids, and Cromwell sent volunteers. And the Air Force – we can’t say enough about how much they have helped. We finished work on 15 houses that first day! Everyone who was there saw how much fun it was and how much we accomplished. It clearly had great potential.
With time, we have garnered greater resources and have been blessed to have the same volunteers come out again and again. Now we have hosted almost 10 Rock the Blocks in three years! We have had over 400 volunteers show up before to help work on houses or just visit with community members. It has turned into something unbelievable. I have volunteers asking me when the next Rock the Block is at least once a week. We have gotten to the point where we are able to complete 15-20 projects on the day of. People get to see the before & after all at once.
What is your favorite Rock the Block Memory?
A powerful memory for me would be what we accomplished through the construction of the pavilion at Vestal Park. It was something that we, along with the North Little Rock Parks and Recreation Department and Baring Cross Neighborhood Association worked together to achieve. We had regular meetings and facilitated discussions that led to the creation of a wish list. This lead to the city opening up half of the previously locked up park, tearing down fences and creating a massive space for open play, a multi-use court, and a pavilion. It was s a huge achievement in not only building and creating that space, but bringing together members of the community and giving them a voice. It helped build their relationships with the city government and created a sense of accomplishment and an understanding that their voices are heard.