Churches, Cities, Neighborhoods Unite to Help Troubled San Jose Communities

Janice Rombeck | NeighborWebSJ

This pile reflects a morning's work of cleaning Coyote Creek.

And Dorian Silva

Faith-based communities, city governments and neighborhood associations across San Jose joined forces to repair homes, rid creek sides of debris, tend gardens, spruce up schools, clean parks and foster a sense of community pride in troubled areas targeted by the San Jose Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force.

The 3,500 weekend warriors of Beautiful Day this year spread out across all 10 San Jose City Council Districts for two days of what the organization calls “about a hundred small things that make a difference.”

Dorian Silva | NeighborWebSJ

Gilroy resident Luis Franco helps to restore a mural.

The April 28-29 event was a continuation of projects Beautiful Day launched in San Jose and nearby communities that began in Alviso three years ago. Started by Westgate Church, Beautiful Day brings together churches, cities, businesses and community organizations to not only do the “small things” but also large projects that can make a real impact on neglected communities.

“This is our way of showing our faith through our work,” said Jim Buchanan, a Beautiful Day project coordinator.

Westgate Pastor Jon Talbert, who is also a member of the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, said Beautiful Day chose hot spots of gang activity and recruited volunteers from the neighborhoods to work with the other partners.

“It says to the community, this is your community, this is your neighborhood and it belongs to you,” Talbert said. “We’ve had gang members get involved.”

Janice Rombeck | NeighborWebSJ

Mama Faye shows a visitor her camp site.

Paul Pereira, the city’s neighborhood teams manager, believes the efforts do more than make areas look better. In an indirect way, Beautiful Day and other neighborhood improvement programs fight crime.

“It’s helping to stabilize lives by improving the physical attributes of their neighborhoods,” he said. “People don’t do bad things because they’re bad people. People usually do bad things because they’re lives are unstable.”

Janice Rombeck | NeighborWebSJ

Volunteer Tony Johnson.

In San Jose, projects ranged from pulling weeds and spreading mulch in the city’s Municipal Rose Garden to repainting a mural in Biebrach Park to cleaning tons of debris from Coyote Creek near a homeless encampment. Volunteers of all ages also painted homes and put on new roofs, landscaped yards, painted out graffiti and visited residents of a West San Jose retirement home.

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Mama Faye, 69, who lives in a homeless camp near Coyote Creek. “They have lifted my spirits.”

Janice Rombeck | NeighborWebSJ

Tran enjoys taco lunch.

She was referring to the nearly 200 volunteers who pulled mounds of trash and debris out of the creek near Ridder Park Drive in District 4. Mama Faye has been homeless for “18 years and change” and lives in a tent community with dozens of other homeless people she calls “her children.”

The volunteers also fed freshly made tacos to dozens of homeless people who expressed gratitude for a warm meal.

Tony Johnson, 35, volunteered to clean the creek and had a special empathy with the inhabitants. He was homeless for two years.

“The Lord spoke to me and told me this wasn’t the life for me,” he said.

Dorian Silva | NeighborWebSJ

The faded mural, left, and the Aztec Calendar during restoration.

At another project site across town, volunteers gave a deteriorating mural at Biebrach Park a new coat of paint and new hope to unify the community.

In 1995, a young local tagger, Antonio Torres, was asked by residents of the Gardner neighborhood to put his talent to better use and create a mural in Biebrach Park on Virginia Avenue in the Gardner Neighborhood. He created a large Aztec calendar using only spray paint. Years later, even as the mural began to fade, it became a centerpiece for the community and for people of Aztec and Mexican heritage.

Gilroy artist Julie Franco was asked to redraw the mural, which took her and four community members two days to complete. Kelly-Moore Paints donated supplies.

Franco said that she took the time to research the culture in order to stay true to the original drawing and its original colors.

Dorian Silva | NeighborWebSJ

Community members help repaint the Aztec calendar, which was originally painted in 1995 by a local tagger.

“We’re just trying to revitalize it and I’m having a blast working with everybody,” said Franco. “Everyone is so kind and giving, I just can’t explain how amazing this is.”

The mural is also a focal point for he Peace and Dignity group, which gathers at this location annually, according to Gardner resident Patricia Palmoares-Mason. People come from as far as Alaska, New York, and Panama celebrate their culture at this location as the pass through on their journey.

“We want peace in our community, as any other community, but sometimes we forget to unite,” said Palomares-Mason, “so this is uniting people from different areas from different backgrounds, different ages, and this is important.”

Her 18 year-old son, Jacob, also has a strong bond to the mural saying that it has brought the community together during tough times. He came to help prime the wall as soon as he heard about the restoration.

“ I believe this is going to bring peace to the community, because it has gone through a lot. It’s a really big importance to me and the community,” Jacob said.