Volunteers in North Springfield Set New Example of 'Good Neighbors'

Apr 11, 2014

With the busy hustle and bustle of modern-day life, many neighborhoods no longer experience the close-knit feel of days gone by.  But one group of volunteers is trying to change that through what they call "the slow snowball effect." KSMU's Theresa Bettmann has more.

I'm warmly greeted at a cozy home nestled in the Robberson neighborhood on the north side of Springfield.  Dolly Vranka is part of the Robberson Neighborhood Association.  That's her “official" role.  However most of her "unofficial" work centers around what she calls simply "being a good neighbor."

"Start being the example and it starts to take on its own [momentum]. And I think it's beginning," says Vranka.

Last April, Vranka says she noticed a grassy lot in the neighborhood that had accumulated quite a bit of trash—coffee cups, old toilets, paper, water bottles. She says although the City usually mows this area, that was impossible because there was so much debris.  With some help from another volunteer, Vranka cleaned up the area and hauled the items off.

When word got back to their Neighborhood Association, a few individuals talked about taking this idea door to door.

"Well you know what—we need to get a little group together maybe one Saturday a month.  Go around and find the elderly folks that need their fence rows cleaned up, their back alleys fixed up or maybe need help in their yards," Vranka says.

Vranka says as they grow the idea, they would like to be able to get church groups or young civic groups involved in the project one weekend a month.

Roy Staas, Vranka's longtime neighbor and friend, playfully calls himself the "neighborhood grunt." 

"We used to have a lot of trash on the street here because there's a lot of people walk up and down the street and throw out their fast food stuff.  I go out and pick stuff up.  Well, very seldom you see anything on the street anymore because they see me and think, 'well he shouldn't have to come and do that in front of my house' and so people pick stuff up," Staas says.

Linda and Lloyd VanDerBroeke are grateful for the help hauling what they could not themselves.  As retired farmers, they moved into the neighborhood around three years ago to be closer to children and grandchildren.  They had their work cut out for them making home improvements.

"We've redone the whole house and we took out a lot of trees that were just no good.  They hauled them away for us.  There's things we can't do anymore.  Getting to be more things we can't do every year [chuckles].  I'm 79 years old, I guess I can expect it," VanDenBroeke says.

As a result of the hard work they have put into their home, the VanDenBroekes received the "Betterment Award" in 2013 from the North Springfield Betterment Association.

VanDerBroeke says he's outgoing and enjoys meeting people.  Like Staas and Vranka, he's joined the Neighborhood Association and believes in setting an example.  He explains the more people become invested in their neighbors, the more they become invested in their community.