Non-profit partners praises Gary's Vacant to Vibrant projects to eliminate vacant homes

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GARY, Indiana — City officials gathered with nonprofit and federal partners Monday morning to officially open a rain garden on a formerly abandoned lot in the city's Aetna neighborhood.

The garden on a lot that previously held a home that had not been occupied for 15 to 20 years, officials said.

The garden is part of the Vacant to Vibrant initiative in which Gary's environmental leaders are using grant funds in partnership with Cleveland Botanical Garden to use vacant, abandoned lots to address storm water management issues with rain gardens.

Federal and state funds are assisting with the projects as well.

Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson said "the excitement still can't be contained" about the project.

Dr. Susan Hedman, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Region 5 in Chicago, said she came to Gary last year with a $250,000 grant from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative aimed at helping increase green infrastructure and reducing blight.

The projects, Hedman said, will help reduce storm water runoff, runoff from snow melt and flooded basements.

Hedman said new project sites will be selected early next year and will include rain gardens and swales aimed at flood prevention. Freeman-Wilson said the projects will be expanded to other neighborhoods, "especially the north side of Gary."

"I look forward to returning next fall, hopefully before it snows, to see those projects," Hedman said.

Sandra Albro, of Cleveland Botanical Garden, said each project in the city costs about $18,000. Albro stressed the work is all part of an ongoing process, saying she and her staff will return in the spring to assess storm water diversion and resident satisfaction.

"We're most excited about our residents and the energy ignited from the Aetna community," Freeman-Wilson said.

The mayor said she receives calls daily from Aetna residents, including Joelle Gamble. Gamble's friends and family members told her she was crazy when she and her husband moved from Calumet City to Gary 15 years ago.

She vowed to get involved in the community.

"It's a matter of encouraging your neighbors to get involved," Gamble said of her Aetna neighborhood. "Our block club's motto is you don't have to move to live in a better neighborhood."

Gamble said she is thrilled with the results of the rain garden.

"This is helping define the community," Gamble said. "More families are moving in. We have kids playing out in the yards.

Mark Lopez, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, said the congressman often says a successful economy is dependent upon a successful environment.

Lopez said he and his youngest son drove through Aetna block by block recently and tried to use the neighborhood as a teaching tool.

"If we all just do a little bit day by day, at the end of our life's journey, we will have made a significant impact," Lopez said.

Source: The (Munster) Times,

Information from: The Times,

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