Exploring Neighborhoods in Champaign and Vermilion Countiesby Crystal Kang on Apr 02, 2012
When I think about the word “neighborhood,” I imagine my own suburban hometown where I grew up. It's different than the ones I’ve seen in Vermilion and Champaign counties. On my block, not only do townhouses dot the boulevard, but they are exact replicas of one another. Most of my neighbors are white and middle-class, which add a cookie-cutter feel to my neighborhood. It's rare to see young and old come together because we mostly keep to ourselves. All of our lives diverge, and we are set on keeping our interactions to a minimum.
The contrast between the neighborhood where I grew up and the ones I have visited in Danville and Champaign is striking.
The most noticeable difference between my hometown and Danville was seeing rental properties, owner-occupied homes, apartment complexes and single family homes all standing in near proximity. At the same time, I came across a handful of vacant properties in Danville, which owners left behind as businesses went under amid the economic crisis that began about three years ago. Even so, Danville has a big heart for diversity and dreams.
On my first visit, I met long-time resident Mary Ann Pettigrew. She shared stories about how close-knit her neighbors were as she grew up in the area where she and her siblings attended school and church. Her understanding of a good neighbor is someone who is there for you without being intrusive. She can attest to what it means to be there for her neighbors. Mary Ann had helped her 90-year-old neighbor Margaret find a ride to and from church for a while before she passed away. Before journeying through her neighborhood, Mary Ann showed her hospitality by providing a fresh plate of peanut butter cookies and tea for Celeste Quinn and me.
On my second visit to Danville, I met Thom Pollock, the executive director of Crosspoint Human Services and president of the New Holland Corporation. His passion for helping people find affordable housing became clear when he spoke about the initiative to rehabilitate the apartment complex that had been known for drugs and prostitution some years ago. After seeing The New Holland, I was struck by its magnificence and grandeur. It stands out in downtown Danville. The care taken to preserve this historic building and the use of green technology impress. What is most impressive is the fact that The New Holland has opened up 47 affordable apartments for individuals and families. Thom believes in being “the best neighbor on the block.” His vision for Danville speaks volumes about his value of fostering community and unity.
In Champaign I visited a home in Shadow Wood, a mobile home park. My first impression of the neighborhood was that people share communal spaces including a modest computer lab. I met Max Abandja and Lester Berrio, a couple who have a knack for helping their non-English speaking neighbors apply for jobs and providing spiritual guidance to church members. What surprised me was their heart for the residents of Shadow Wood. The one thing both Max and Lester look forward to each day is being resourceful to their neighbors. And that's exactly the kind of neighbor I hope to be and live with in the future.
When I think about what all these people have in common, the word that comes to mind is "compassion." Without it, I don’t think anyone would think twice about helping a neighbor or even rebuilding a community. That vision simply wouldn’t be there. But through what are now comfortable interactions and experiences with the neighbors I met in Danville and Champaign, I’m learning a thing or two about what it means to be a better neighbor.