Building Community: Rock the Block

Posted on Jun 7, 2021 by

Rock the Block will roll into the River East neighborhood in Oshkosh this summer with its volunteer-powered home repair program. Launched locally in 2019 by Habitat for Humanity of Oshkosh in partnership with Oshkosh Health Neighborhoods and the City of Oshkosh, the Rock the Block program creates a sense of neighborhood. It brings homeowners and community volunteers together to do dozens of exterior projects in a short period – often involving several homes on the same block in a manner of days.

Local volunteers tackle yardwork and other exterior home improvement projects during the 2019 Rock the Block.

The program specializes in “muscle” projects including landscaping, painting, and repair of broken porches or railings – projects where many hands make light work.

Homeowner Dan Clayton shares, “We bought our home three years ago and neither my wife nor I have green thumbs so everything was super overgrown and leaves were everywhere. The clean-up took a couple of hours and it’s something we couldn’t have done in a couple of years. We are super thankful.”

Even a pandemic couldn’t stop last year’s Rock the Block. Liz Last, Rock the Block Manager at Habitat Oshkosh, felt that a promise had been made to 30 homeowners in the Congress Field Neighborhood that work would be done and wanted to avoid cancellation if at all possible. With assistance from Construction Manager Rob Rabe, Liz spent countless hours working on proposals, guidelines and the steps needed to get each job done safely and correctly with the smallest crew possible.

Rock the Block Oshkosh jokingly rebranded itself “The World’s Slowest Parade” and set out with a team limited to 16 volunteers a day, working on 4-5 homes on one block at a time. The parade slowly made its way through multiple blocks over eight workdays spread throughout July and August.

All of the planning and program adjustments paid off. Not one Rock the Block volunteer, homeowner or Habitat staff member tested positive for COVID-19. After all was said and done, 30 homes were repaired by 78 volunteers.

The Community Foundation helped Rock the Block get its start by funding a manager to oversee the effort, supplies for the initial wave of projects, outreach, and direct support of coalition partners through a three-year grant from the Basic Needs Giving Partnership, which is supported by the U.S. Venture Fund for Basic Needs within the Oshkosh Area Community Foundation, the J. J. Keller Foundation, and other community partners.

“Without this grant, Rock the Block Oshkosh would not exist,” says Tom Simon, Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity of Oshkosh. “This program is now an annual part of Oshkosh. It has been a catalyst for neighborhood associations to increase their efforts and formed a unique public-private coalition that promises to last for years to come. And the Basic Needs Giving Partnership can be proud to have been a leader in the growth of this program.”

The excitement surrounding Rock the Block draws people’s attention and creates a “we are in this together” spirit. Even during the pandemic, neighbors walking their dog or isolated in their homes came outside to converse with volunteers, bringing a sense of connectedness during a difficult time of physical distancing.

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