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Posted on Thu. Mar. 13, 2014 - 12:01 am EDT

Addressing blight in South Bend with paintings


SOUTH BEND – Some were straightforward, resembling picture windows with the curtains drawn, while others depicted more elaborate scenes – Tweety Bird peering from his cage or fields of peace signs blooming from flower stems. Grade school students painted some of the images, while trained artists made others.

Either way, the paintings looked better than broken windows and drab plywood boards.

Volunteer groups gathered around South Bend over the weekend to paint decorative plywood panels to adorn the doors and windows of abandoned and vacant homes as part of the Neighborhood Resources Corp.’s two-day “Spring Forward” campaign to help address neighborhood blight. Volunteers painted the boards Saturday, and teams of two or three moved through neighborhoods Sunday afternoon, installing the finished product.

Groups prepared and installed boards for 45 homes, according to Diana Hess, executive director of the NRC. Hess said the project started with the NRC and local artist Chris Stackowicz but blossomed into a communitywide event focused on adding a little beauty to South Bend’s most blighted neighborhoods.

Stackowicz and cstackstudios were an integral part of designing and organizing the project, including material procurement, fundraising and other efforts. Stackowicz also designed and led the Indiana 933 bridge mural project.

“The blight that affects the community as a whole affect those who live in the neighborhood too, with their emotional and physical well-being,” Hess said.

Mike Hebbeler, a Near Northwest-side Neighborhood resident who was helping to install some of the boards Sunday afternoon along Blaine Avenue, said the project gave community members a chance to tackle widespread blight, which remains a major issue for the near northwest side.

“The neighborhood has many vacant and abandoned properties,” Hebbeler said. “The city is working on solutions, but the residents have a stake in this as well.”

Students, staff and families also gathered Saturday at Muessel Elementary School to paint for the project. Principal Michael Budzinski said it was inspiring to see so many students want to take an active role in civic engagement.

Many of the students walk by blighted homes to get to school, he said. These homes will benefit from the project, all while inspiring the students to be engaged.

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