Simpson Housing Executive Director Julie Manworren, foreground, and staffers Aja Beers, Gary Kuper, Pat Botten, Janelle Leppa, Dina Chou, Julia Riebe, Troy Burton, Trina James, Wendy Wiegmann and Jamie Hacket.
Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune
Tevlin: In Whittier, one neighbor spreads goodwill with shovel, brush
- Article by: JON TEVLIN
- Star Tribune
- November 15, 2011 - 9:34 PM
They say that good fences make good neighbors. Some people on Pillsbury Ave. in Minneapolis, however, are finding out that knocking down barriers can make for even better neighbors.
The random acts of kindness started when Simpson Housing Services, an agency that helps homeless people find a place to live, had to get rid of a diseased tree in their yard. While they were at it, they also removed some bushes in front that partially hid the entrance to their administrative offices, which are housed in an old brick house just off Franklin Ave.
A man who had bought and refurbished an old mansion across the street noticed the change, and the peeling facade on the gracious old home. One day he stopped by and introduced himself. He had bought some flowering crab apple trees for a couple of other properties on the block: Did they want one?
"He not only bought the tree, he dug the hole and planted it," said Julie Manworren, executive director of the agency. "Then he said that our entrance looked like it needed to be scraped and painted, and he offered to do it."
The man, who did not want to be identified, went on to paint the agency's second floor doors and front stoop. He then edged the walkway, uncovering six inches of brick. Then he sent his brick layers over to rebuild two gate posts at the front of the driveway, put in a window box filled with flowers and added some planters on the porch. He even polished the home's brass door knob and put plaques next to the door acknowledging the Realtor who donated the home to the agency.
But he wasn't done.
The good neighbor scraped and painted the entry ways and doors to the next two houses, former mansions that had been turned into rental units. He did the same for another old building that shelters former homeless people, Alliance Housing.
Then he put big wreaths on all their doors for the holidays.
"He's amazing," said Manworren. "He's improved the curb appeal of the entire block."
Times are tough for non-profits, and Manworren said Simpson didn't have the money to spruce up its offices right now, so she's especially appreciative of the neighbor's efforts.
As Manworren walked down the block and pointed out the Samaritan's handiwork, you could see someone inside the building painting window frames.
"What's happened as result of [the neighbor] is that people have started other projects on their own," she said.
"He just cold-called us and asked if we wanted apple trees," said Alliance Housing's Bob Bono. "I've never met him, but he seems to be a great guy. He's not just a good neighbor, he's really taken an interest in the neighborhood. He's truly a good Samaritan."
The man answered my e-mail and gave me a little history. He is in banking, loves the historic Whittier Neighborhood and wants to be part of its resurrection.
The Samaritan said he remembers raking leaves for his neighbor as a kid, and that his father told him to "be a doer" and to help people if you are able. He also thinks the non-profits on the block are doing stellar work.
"Simpson Housing, a Whittier cornerstone, is a great organization that works with Minnesotans experiencing homelessness," he wrote. "Their staff works tirelessly to restore the dignity and stability of people going through hard times by finding them suitable housing. It seems only right that they should have an attractive 'home' themselves. They're the heroes here. I just did some painting and planting to spruce their building up a bit. If it makes the staff at Simpson Housing happier to come to work in the morning and do the vital work that they do, then that's great."
"If anything," he wrote, "I guess it's just about reminding ourselves to be good neighbors when we can."
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