More than twenty years ago, Sharon Adams moved back to her childhood home in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood outside of Milwaukee, after living in New York City for thirty years. When she arrived, prostitutes roamed the streets, drivers cruised in search of drugs, and gunshots were heard almost every day. Sharon was actually advised by several police captains not to go outside, even during the day.
However, she wasn’t afraid and started taking walks in the neighborhood. Gradually, Sharon was joined by others who told her they were sometimes hesitant even to go out and retrieve the mail. Then she met Larry Adams, a contractor she hired to fix the wiring in her house. After the job was done, he asked Sharon out for ice cream. Within a year they were married.
In 1997, during their first Christmas together, they were sitting in the dining room when Sharon wondered aloud about some flickering lights that had suddenly appeared in the dark, abandoned house across the street. She asked her husband if they might be lighting candles, and he replied that they were crack pipes. That's when Sharon knew she needed to do more than her neighborhood walks. Several dozen homes that she had admired as a child were now boarded up or had been torn down. People regularly came to the neighborhood late at night to dump old tires, refrigerators, and unwanted furniture into the weedy lots that remained.
Sharon wanted to fix her community. She felt the rampant crime was a symptom of total disrespect. Years before, authorities had razed a canopy of walnut trees in the neighborhood for an expressway that ultimately was never built. So, Sharon and Larry formed a nonprofit organization called Walnut Way Conservation Corporation—named after a main thoroughfare in Lindsay Heights. Sharon, who at the time coordinated a service project for the University of Wisconsin, and Larry, who was both a contractor and electrician, found no shortage of residents who wanted to help turn around the neighborhood. With aid from local redevelopment programs, grants, donations, and dozens of volunteers, Walnut Way soon fixed up the abandoned house that Sharon and Larry had seen on Christmas night, among many others.
Sharon’s inspiring story reminds us that neighborhoods are made up of individuals, each of whom has the potential to create a real sense of community and improve the lives of those who live there. I, too, grew up in a small town, and there were two people in the community who were of great help to me. First, a band director who introduced me to music. I learned how to play several instruments, which not only resulted in winning various awards but also gave me a deep appreciation of music. Second, a geography teacher I had in the eighth grade broadened my knowledge of the many wonderful countries on this planet, which later I traveled to, much to my delight.
Dear readers, have you had experiences that were influenced by the people that lived close to you? If so, sharing about them would be much appreciated!