Changing a Neighborhood, for Good

Gunshots. Drug dealers. Crack houses. Boarded up homes and dirt yards. Families feeling afraid and powerless.

Locally known as “the projects,” this describes the Cabana neighborhood in the early 1990s. Located west of O’Neil Park in Casa Grande, the neighborhood was owned by an absentee landlord, and most of the residents rented with the help of government assistance. There were at least four known drug dealers in the area, and they commonly engaged in gun battles and turf wars.

Doug Price, Cottonwood Elementary School Principal, was concerned about his students. He said, “The children from Cabana tell me they’re afraid to sleep by the window at night due to gunshots. We have to do something.”

This is when Seeds of Hope entered. In 1993, the Board of Directors identified “the projects” as an area of major concern. Task forces were formed to conduct a community needs and asset assessment. Seeds of Hope Director David Brubaker and his family moved into a home in the target neighborhood. Residents identified a need for after-school programs for youth, so the Brubakers started a youth club in their home. They befriended their neighbors and empowered them to take their community back.

After six intense months and a collaborative effort among Seeds of Hope, Cottonwood School, the Casa Grande Police Department and the property management company, all four drug dealers were evicted. Seeds of Hope acquired one of the former “crack houses” and turned it into a community center.

Community Center Director Vangie Saucedo was hired in 1996. The youth club was expanded to include teens, through a partnership with the Salvation Army.

The neighborhood continued to flourish. The area looked so different. The Cabana property owners started a home-ownership program and slowly replaced the renters. By 2003, the neighborhood had improved significantly and no longer needed help from Seeds of Hope. The community center was relocated to Casa Grande’s west side, on Melrose Street.

This is Christian community development at its best. It was achieved through relocation of staff, redistribution of community assets and attention, along with reconciliation of neighbors to one another and pro-social institutions, like churches. This is what Seeds of Hope is all about — improving lives through relationships and community development.