War Vets Help Rebuild And Revitalize A Baltimore Neighborhood

I'm really glad to see this -- but also ashamed and infuriated that here in America, we have so many neighborhoods not much different from war-torn countries. This LA Times story is still inspiring, though [via Cabdrollery]:

Earl Johnson's boots crunch broken glass from liquor bottles as he walks down an alley in East Baltimore's Oliver neighborhood.

He is just blocks from the site of the firebombing of a family who called the police on drug dealers and were killed for it, and just yards from some of the most memorable scenes of urban decay in television's "The Wire."

At his side are Rich Blake, 32, a Marine Corps veteran; and Jeremy Johnson, 34, a Navy veteran. Like Earl (no relation to Jeremy), they are on a different kind of mission.

They've come to this neighborhood once synonymous with the worst of Baltimore to help it become something better. They call this mission Operation Oliver.

As the men walk, they pick up empty Seagram's gin and Bacardi rum bottles. They point to progress — refurbished homes, a painted playground — and to vacant houses and trash-filled alleys that still need work.

"A lot of the conditions from places we're deployed to, Iraq and Afghanistan, are not that much different from the conditions here in Oliver," says Blake, executive director of the 6th Branch, one of several nonprofit groups involved in Operation Oliver.

"We're not afraid to dig in and make a difference in a community that's got a bad reputation in the city," Blake says. "The discipline, the go-get-'em, let's-do-this-now, aggressive attitude — it really lends itself to community service in a way traditional organizations haven't been able to do."

Operation Oliver, which began in July, is a one-year commitment to the neighborhood, the veterans say. It involves cleaning up alleys, rehabilitating homes, organizing volunteers and notifying police about illegal dumping sites and drug dealing.

To say the idea has caught on would be an understatement. Word of the intensive yearlong service project has spread throughout Maryland — and the nation.


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