7-13-2012 3:22:02 PM
In 1990, the Valencia Park neighborhood in Shreveport was an eyesore. Decaying houses sat next to empty, weed-infested lots on pothole-covered streets. Drug dealers used long-abandoned houses for commerce while senior citizens were hidden behind locked doors. While the neighborhood had its share of concerned citizens, they were outnumbered by drug dealers, renters and absentee landlords that simply didn't care.
Some did what they could to clean the area up, but tearing down houses and repaving streets was something they couldn't do. Around this time, a group of developers began buying property in the neighborhood for commercial speculation. The development never materialized but the land was donated to the newly formed Habitat for Humanity of Northwest Louisiana. One of Habitat's first volunteers, Pat Joyner was shocked by what he saw. "We went in and people were living in places you can't believe."
Habitat's first project was the renovation of an elderly woman's house. Paint was peeling off the walls and the woman washed clothes in a shed in the back yard. Volunteers from local churches ignored police warnings of neighborhood crime and built a laundry room and porch and gave it a fresh coat of paint. Later, with Habitat's help she was able to buy the house she had been renting for years.
Things began to change around Valencia Park as Habitat renovated old houses and constructed new ones. Families began moving into houses they could have never afforded without Habitat's help. These were not only houses that they were paying for, but homes they helped build with their own two hands.
Eddie Jean, one of the first Habitat homeowners in the area, said, "A lot of people have beautiful homes, but it's different when you've put up the frame and hung the sheetrock."
Crime rates went down in Valencia Park. As more houses came up, out came children playing in yards, teenagers gathering for basketball and senior citizens sitting on their porches, no longer barricaded inside.
Over 15 years later, the Valencia Park community has become legendary among local Habitat circles. Howard Allen, a longtime resident of the area said, "They're the savior of the neighborhood. They helped the neighborhood to help themselves."