When the Lyon Park Community Association meeting was canceled for December, its members weren’t content with just taking a break.
“We said, if there ever was a time to reach out to the neighborhood, it’s the holiday time,” said Hazelene Umstead, an association member who grew up in the community and returned to her childhood home in 1993. “Especially during this economic crisis.”
So eight neighborhood residents gathered at Umstead’s home on December 19, a cold and icy Saturday, to assemble canned goods, fruit, nuts and other donated items into baskets for the neighborhood’s neediest residents, including the elderly and mothers with children.
“My house looked like a little grocery store,” Umstead laughed. “It was so beautiful, so wonderful — when we have our meeting in January, hopefully we’ll decide to do this with the association every year.”
Other residents who pitched in included Ethel Simonetti, Clarissa Grady, Donna Johnson, Dorice Baldwin, Gail Thompson and Mayme Webb-Bledsoe, who facilitates the Southwest Central Durham Quality of Life Project (QOL) out of Duke’s Office of Community Affairs.
Umstead said the sense of community that brought those residents together is what prompted her to move back to the neighborhood in the first place, despite the challenges that had cropped up since she left. Crime was an issue, she said, and the neighborhood’s family atmosphere seemed to be at risk.
“But for the last five or 10 years or so, this community has bloomed,” Umstead said. “It’s gone from an ugly duckling to a swan, and you can give the credit to Quality of Life, Duke (University), Habitat for Humanity, the Community Land Trust, Self-Help, all those organizations.”
The Lyon Park neighborhood, formed in the early 20th century and named after the local school, joined QOL when the project began in 2001. Ever since, Lyon Park has worked with the five other Southwest Central Durham neighborhoods and other community organizations to boost local quality of life through support for housing, economic development, area nonprofits and the celebration of local traditions.
Umstead said the efforts of the past decade have paid off. Crime is down, housing has improved, and the local school has been renovated to create the Community, Family Life and Recreation Center at Lyon Park, which houses programs such as GED preparation, recreation, child development services, performing and visual arts opportunities, and an afterschool program supported by the Duke-Durham Neighborhood Partnership.
“We’re just working together so beautifully,” Umstead said of the partnerships that have breathed new life into Lyon Park. “I’m so happy to be back where I grew up. It’s my soul.”