Clearing Blight and Building Community in Tulsa

The Problem

Low-income communities in Tulsa lacked adequate resources to deal with extreme weather, such as heat and cold, and recover from tornadoes. Abandoned homes and vacant lots also led to blighted properties in many of these communities. Additionally, the city did not have the capacity to sustainability recruit and manage volunteers to address these problems.

The Solution

With funds and technical assistance from Cities of Service, the city launched several interrelated programs to address these problems.

  • Tulsa created servcetulsans.org as a central volunteer hub for the city.
  • The city incorporated its Cities of Service Love Your Block program – created in 2011 to give small grants to community groups to address blight in their neighborhoods – into its resilience program.
  • Cities of Service AmeriCorps VISTA members and city staff recruited volunteers, such as the Director of Streets and Stormwater for the city, to teach workshops for the grant recipients to help them implement their projects.
  • Through the Resilient Home program, city staff and the AmeriCorps VISTA members helped residents weatherize their homes to better prepare for extreme weather.

Tulsa: Youth volunteers paint a house as part of Resilience AmeriCorps revilatization efforts. Photo Credit: Kell Cafe Photography.

The Results

Through the Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA program, Tulsa has both reduced blight and created new relationships with residents and community groups.

  • With grants from Love Your Block, more than 300 residents have increased resilience to extreme weather, cleaned up trash, replaced dilapidated playground equipment, painted murals and improved buildings in their neighborhoods.
  • The city also required neighborhood associations applying for Love Your Block grants to apply with a partner organization, which created new partnerships within neighborhoods and expanded the impact of the grants.
  • The city successfully piloted Resilient Home in two homes, fortifying their roofs to prepare for extreme weather and save energy, demonstrating the projects feasibility on a larger scale.
  • Through the program they have also trained Tulsans to weatherize their homes in partnership with local nonprofits Meals on Wheels and Disaster Resilience Network.
  • The city, residents, and community groups are using servetulsans.org to more efficiently recruit and coordinate volunteers.

Keys to Success

Support from leadership and the dedication of staff ultimately made the program a success. Mayor G.T. Bynum was committed to the program, and the neighborhood liaisons and AmeriCorps VISTA members created connections with community members to create buy-in and increase participation.

“We want to be inclusive, and show that we care about everyone’s opinions and ideas.”

— Grace Martin, AmeriCorps VISTA Member