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BlockWork returns for 10th year of beautification

By Carl Blankenship
carl.blankenship@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — Dirt, paint, lumber and ice cream were being doled out in equal measure Saturday on the 200 block of South Clay Street.

Saturday marked the 10th year of BlockWork, a city project that picks out one block in town and recruits volunteers to help fix up the exteriors of homes. That means painting, landscaping, building railings and repairing decks as needed. The event coincides with National Make a Difference Day on the fourth Saturday in October each year. The Salisbury Community Appearance Commission as well as the Salisbury Housing Advocacy Commission pick the block from submissions.

The event makes the block look nicer, but it also improves the homes for the people who live there. Organizers agreed it seems to encourage other people nearby to make some of their own do-it-yourself improvements.

Latonia Shaw-Gillespie has the only owner-occupied home on the street, and Blockwork helped her make planned improvements to her 1904 home. The house needed a new deck to replace the dry-rotted, old installation and a fresh coat of paint.

“This house has been green forever,” Shaw-Gillespie said. “And we’re going to change the color.”

She said the new color would be a “brilliant” purple.

“Royal, passionate, something strong,” Shaw-Gillespie said.

The house belonged to one of her teachers when she was growing up, and Shaw-Gillespie said she told the teacher she planned to own the house one day. Before Saturday, Shaw-Gillespie had a few problem trees in the back yard taken down. She also plans to have the roof repaired due to tree damage as well. She has nine kids and three grandchildren who have inspired her turn the house into something to pass down.

“It’s a blessing in disguise,” she said.

There were 108 volunteers signed up on Saturday. More work was planned for Sunday but was postponed due to rain in the forecast.

This year looked a bit different. Organizer and city of Salisbury urban design planner Alyssa Nelson said everyone was assigned to houses ahead of time and that space was a consideration. The city was also anticipating a lower volunteer turnout due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but they showed up in about normal numbers.

“This is the first year we’ve asked people to fill out forms in advance,” Nelson said.

Each home was assigned a site manager to oversee the work. The managers are volunteers who have a greater skillset and may be construction professionals such as carpenters, contractors and masons.

Michael Grissom, a contractor who specializes in remodeling, first got involved with BlockWork a couple years ago when he drove past and saw people working outside. He stopped, got out his tools and started helping.

“It looked like a lot of people having fun,” Grissom said.

On Saturday, he was building deck railings.

Nelson estimated about $30,000 in materials and labor went into the event. The city contributes $10,000 and Nelson also looks for grant funding for the project, but the event’s litany of sponsors also pitch in with services such as pressure washing and materials that include bricks, landscaping materials and plants.

Volunteer and Community Appearance Commission Chair Jane Creech said her favorite thing about the event is seeing people of different ages coming together from across the city to do something positive.

“You find friends and make connections that you never would have had the opportunity to make before,” Creech said.

Creech’s job for the day was organizing food for the volunteers. She said working around the pandemic made this year a bit challenging, but the commission was determined to not let it stop the event.

“This makes me feel proud to be a part of my city,” Creech said.

The Salisbury Police Department’s NICE truck also made an appearance. The truck is emblazoned with law enforcement insignia, but it’s only piece of equipment is a deep freezer filled with ice cream.

There was no art installation this year. Nelson said an installation is put in place if there is a good opportunity.

The next BlockWork is a year away, but residents can reach out via phone at 704-638-5235 or email at blockwork@salisburync.gov.

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