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A Street Called Blythe

(originally published in Immaculate Heart Community News, Fall 1994)

 

Just off Van Nuys Boulevard in Panorama City runs a street ironically named Blythe. Reporters who cover the area routinely refer to the street as blighted. It is lined with low cost, low quality housing and, until recently, most surfaces were graffiti covered. Whatever order existed there was imposed by the ruling gang, the "Dukes."


Click here to see the Historic Timeline

 

Jerry Grudzen, a developer of low-income housing and a member of the Federation for Christian Ministry, met Margaret Rose Welch, IHM, a couple of years ago and shared with her his vision of improving the quality of life on streets like Blythe by organizing the delivery of desperately needed services - security, health care, job training. Margaret immediately sensed how well such a project expressed the IHM goal, and she energetically and successfully lobbied the community's board of trustees to put moral and financial support behind it. In January, 1993, Margaret was named director of the project and began recruiting staff and volunteers.

 

Through Jenny Alberts, an owner of Blythe Street apartments, Margaret and her co-workers were introduced to residents and made aware of the scope of their problems and needs. Several months were devoted to interviewing residents and identifying local sources of necessary services. Socorro Meza, IHM (see her article on p. 3), was an early addition to the Project staff and initiated religious education programs for the children and eventually for interested adults. Socorro attests that since she went to work aches and pains have disappeared and her energy level has soared.

 

One of the most hopeful developments is the initiative taken by members of the gang to improve their relations with their neighbors and with the police. Respect between the gang members and the staff is mutual and there is general agreement that if decent jobs were available to these young men, gang activity would fall off dramatically.

 

All who are working there embrace as their major mission the empowerment of the people to take responsibility for their neighborhood and to move them to accept leadership roles both there and with the public and private agencies. All of this is now beginning to happen.

 

Religious Formation Program

(originally published in Immaculate Heart Community News, Fall 1994)

 

Shortly after our arrival at Blythe Street in May, 1992, I began the process of evangelization by visiting each family on Blythe Street with Sister Anne Regan, a member of the Irish Sisters of Charity. The purpose of this venture was to introduce ourselves in friendly conversation and to listen carefully to their needs. The people responded with open arms and grateful hearts. "An answer to prayer and God's gift to us," one lady chanted in familiar prayer. I personally was deeply touched. The sincerity of their faith and their hope for a great tomorrow was their theme.

 

Their religious faith being so deeply rooted was the most evident strength common among them. Appreciation for the personal visit to their home was repeatedly voiced. I wanted to gift each family with a sense of their own personal freedom. If only they could recognize new possibiltiies with a new future.

 

By the end of the two months we had gathered the data. Religious education was decidedly the greatest expressed need. This gave us the clarity for a new beginning. We thought that other expressed needs-jobs, health, education, and freedom from gang activity-would soon follow.

 

The religious formation program began taking shape in whatever shady space we found on the street. We know now that this was a brilliant idea. This gave witness to our first efforts and created an invitational expression. Attendance was high and enthusiasm never faltered.

 

-Socorro Meza, IHM

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