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Groups, neighbors come together to beautify north St. Louis

Deborah Ruffin speaks to the press about Clean Sweep and the effort to clean up her Hamilton Heights neighborhood.
Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

A grass-roots effort to clean up some north St. Louis neighborhoods is holding an event this weekend.

Clean Sweep will tackle the Hamilton Heights and Wells Goodfellow neighborhoods and parts of the city of Pagedale, in St. Louis County, on Saturday. Better Family Life and Habitat for Humanity organized the effort, the second such clean-up event.

Habitat for Humanity St. Louis Family Service Director Avis McHugh says nearly 700 volunteers showed up for the clean-up of the JeffVanderLou neighborhood in June.

"The love of St. Louis really showed on that day and it was just phenomenal how many people were out there,” she said.

The city of St. Louis, St. Louis Job Corps Center, S.M. Wilson & Co., PepsiCo and United Health Care of Missouri have also contributed to Clean Sweep.

The effort is welcomed by residents in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood.

Deborah Ruffin and Bernice Jones have both lived in the neighborhood since the late 1950s. Both women say it was a wonderful place to grow up, but in recent years drugs, prostitution and vandalism have nearly taken over.

“An element has moved in that is wholly unsavory to us,” Ruffin said.

So last fall Jones made a phone call to Better Family Life and James Clark, vice president of community outreach, got involved.

“I’ve seen a change since he’s been here, helping us in this area, but we have a long way to go,” Jones said.

The women say they’ll stay and fight for Hamilton Heights rather than moving. For James Clark, that’s the key to getting neighborhoods thriving again.

“Contrary to convention wisdom, people want to see St. Louis bounce back,” he said, “And I think people are beginning to understand that it’s not going to come from an elected position; it’s not going to come from a government role; it’s going to come from the people in the neighborhood.”

Registration for Clean Sweep begins at 7:30 a.m., Saturday at the Better Family Life Cultural Center, located at 5415 Page Blvd. 

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.

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