Saving the 'Sweet 16'

Students from the Excel Learning Academy recite "I am Somebody" during the Sweet Sixteen Neighborhood roll out event at the Impact Center on Saturday.

It's hard to imagine a more thorough, community-engaged approach to neighborhood improvement than the Sweet 16 program.

During a Saturday showcase at the Impact Center, organizers rolled out their plans for improving the quality of life in a portion of the 46016 ZIP code area on Anderson's near west side. The Impact Center is the primary local organizer of the effort, working in tandem with community partner Vectren and Prosperity Indiana, the initiative facilitator.

The neighborhood covers nearly two square miles and is bordered by Raible Avenue, 29th Street, Brown-Delaware Street and 10th Street. More than 40 businesses, schools, churches, organizations and apartment complexes call the Sweet 16 area home.

The Wigwam, iconic home of legendary basketball games, sits in the Sweet 16 neighborhood, as well.

Saturday's showcase was well attended, indicating that Sweet 16 leaders have done a good job of making the community aware of the effort, and they must continue to communicate well with neighborhood residents.

Most impressively, The Sweet 16 initiative, which was launched 18 months ago, has enlisted neighborhood residents in the development of action plans to accomplish a list of goals in the general categories of transportation and infrastructure, health and safety, education and job training, business development, and housing.

Each action plan includes the responsible party, a timeline and performance measurements. Partners to be engaged include various city of Anderson departments, businesses, churches, institutions of education and others.

The initiative's ambitious goals seem achievable through strong, consistent effort and adherence to the action plans:

• Install more bike lanes

• More signage of the bus routes for the City of Anderson Transit System

• Signs to help visitors find key locations in Anderson

• Reduce property blight by 25 percent

• Engage the city and landlords in rental property maintenance

• Increase participation in homeowner repair programs by 30 per year

• Develop 54 units of affordable housing

• Develop neighborhood watch groups

• Reduce drug-related crimes by 25 percent

• Raise awareness of diabetes prevention and management resources

• Improve communication

• Build an active business group with 10 or more members

• Find funding for entrepreneurs

• Develop a co-working space for small businesses

• Assist 25 adults living in the area in finding full-time employment by 2020, paying a minimum of $11.30 per hour

• Assist 50 percent of the young people in the 46016 ZIP code to participate in training programs

If Sweet 16 is successful, similar efforts could be undertaken in other parts of the city or even other communities in Madison County. So, in a very real sense, we're all invested in this effort.

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