After a devastating flood in 2011 damaged more than 4,000 homes, residents came to view the Souris River as a hazard rather than a resource. Portions of the river were littered with garbage from illegal dumping and debris. Additionally, some residents did not have the means to repair their homes after the flood. Increased flood control and infrastructure costs limited the city budget, making it difficult for the city to address these problems on its own.
Through the Resilient AmeriCorps VISTA program, the city coordinated citizen-led cleanups, created a tool lending library, and developed other initiatives to clean the river and improve residents’ relationship with it.
- Cities of Service AmeriCorps VISTA members worked with Friends of the Souris and residents to coordinate several river cleanup events.
- The city also worked with Friends of Souris River and other organizations to install stairways down to the riverbank and organize events, such as a bike outing and Skate the River, to make the river more inviting and accessible to residents.
- AmeriCorps VISTA members organized an Adopt-a-Lot program, in which residents agreed to maintain vacant lots in the Souris River floodplain.
- The city created a Tool Lending Library, housed in the public library, which includes hundreds of tools such as hammers, and power tools, to help residents repair their homes without the extra cost of purchasing tools.
- Building inspectors and other experts offered classes to residents on a variety of home improvement topics, including plumbing, wiring, and deck construction.
The Souris River has been transformed into a place residents visit for recreation and the city is better prepared for flooding.
- The city has engaged more than 200 volunteers to clean up six miles of riverfront, removing 36,000 pounds of trash from the river.
- Residents have begun to use the river for skating, skiing, and other activities.
- Citizens adopted 11 vacant lots, transforming them into gardens. The produce from the gardens was donated to local food pantries, and the volunteer labor put into maintaining the lots saved the city money.
Keys to Success
An important part of the programs success was making sure that the town’s 50,000 residents were part of the process before planning began. AmeriCorps VISTA members attended numerous community meetings, distributed surveys, and met with citizens to ensure that their
“Being able to engage with citizens about their future and what they want it to be is essential.”
— Mia Dillard, Cities of Service Resilience AmeriCorps VISTA member