Project aims to clean up neighborhood, change lives

Project aims to clean up neighborhood, change lives
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — On streets and alleys around 34th Street, a local organization is doing more than just picking up trash. Garden Pathways says their effort aims to convince neighbors they care, and then help those neighbors get some potentially life-changing help. They call it helping from the inside out.

"At Garden Pathways, we believe in helping people change from the inside out -- through loving, mentoring relationships," Troy Gomas told Eyewitness News. "So we come out here and clean. We show an interest in the community."

Wednesday morning, a crew of workers and volunteers made their way down an alley off 33rd and Q Street. They loaded an abandoned couch and a couple mattresses into a waiting Bakersfield City trash truck. The group raked up a vacant lot, and pulled out stray toys, chairs and plenty of debris.

"I'm part of the outreach team," Gomas said. "Today we're taking an opportunity to meet with the community, doing a little clean up and hopefully making the connection with the community."

John King stood behind a fence to the alley, and said he was grateful for the help. "That's great, this alley gets messed up all the time," he said. King says the crew's been past his apartment 3 or 4 times. They've also stopped and offered to help him and his girlfriend.

King says it's a pretty tough neighborhood, and mentioned police working nearby. At the same time, several squad cars were around the corner, and a Bakersfield Police officer told Eyewitness News they were following up on a robbery investigation.

"I don't think we picked this area, I think this area chose us," Garden Pathways Mentoring Manager Sean Battle said. He says the group realized there's a need.

Calling the project "34st Street Neighborhood Transformation," Garden Pathways says the area faces severe economic challenges, and that the crime rate is over 15 times the national average.

"We must address the root causes of crime, unemployment, poverty, and lack of education by inspiring hope and dealing with the internal effects of repeated trauma, extended stress and negative influence," the organization says.

"We're showing the community that we care, and at the same time building relationships in the community," Battle says. "Offering them workshops, life skills workshops, job readiness programs, offering them things that can help prepare them to be better off in society."

The organization says since the project started in October, they've met with more than 1,000 neighbors and connected more than 300 to services.

Troy Gomas says he's seeing results.

"We've seen about 4 to 5 individuals go from a gang-banging, drug-filled lifestyle, to just a successful story. They're working, and families are back."

The project is a partnership, with help from nearby Memorial Hospital.

"We see families walk by our hospital every day," Strategic Marketing Director Robin Mangarin-Scott said. "And they look at this shiny, beautiful, new building -- and then they go to their homes." She says that's why Dignity Health committed $41 thousand to support job training programs by Garden Pathways.

"If we are truly about humanity and kindness, we had to invest in our own neighborhoods," Mangarin-Scott says. She calls this on on-going partnership, and one of their most important investments.

Eyewitness News discovered neighbors themselves are also contributing.

"I've been cleaning up 33rd (Street) to 32nd now, out front," Michael Clagg said. He figures the special crews are making a big difference. "They're helping the neighborhood, and we've got to help each other." He hopes more of his neighbors will do the same.

While trash pick-up is just the foot in the door, there has been a lot of trash cleared from the 34th Street areas. Garden Pathways says they've collected more than 40 tons. The crews are usually out on Wednesdays, and rotate their way through a large area from Golden State Avenue to Columbus Avenue, and from Chester to Union Avenue.

Sean Battle says he sees results, and points to a family the project has helped.

"We found a husband and wife in an abandoned home," he says. Battle says that was nine months ago when the project was first launched.

He says the couple went through the job-readiness and life skills programs. The husband now works with a highway clean-up crew through the Homeless Center, and the wife's working as a receptionist and doing custodial work at a Garden Pathways pre-school.

"How they're looking to get their lives back together has been amazing," Battle says. "It's just been an amazing transformation effort." And, the couple is no longer living in an abandoned house in the neighborhood. Battle gives a big smile, "Now, they have an apartment."