What is the PORCH Initiative?
Following two years of learning, team-building and discussion, the PORCH initiative is ready to get to work ushering in a new era in the City’s most infamous neighborhood. People Organized to Revitalize Community Healing (PORCH) will use the Purpose Built Community (PBC) model to fix big problems facing South Cape and build a future of opportunity for all of its residents.
“When you have a history of crime, or stories about crime,” explained Dr. Tamara Zellars Buck, Vice Chair of PORCH, “that becomes the story people tell. You create a culture in the community.” Buck, and others from the neighborhood, took part in a documentary-type video produced by Southeast Missouri State University students for the PBC effort. “It is all about perspective and perception, and representation. Until we start telling the good stories that come out of (South) Cape Girardeau, all people are going to hear is bad.”
South Cape is sometimes pitted against the rest of the city as the area with the crime and poverty problems. The issues are real but they are not unique to South Cape, they are just more concentrated there and it has not always been that way. South Cape is not just a neighborhood of problems.
“It was very nice, it was like a neighborhood of relatives,” Said Martha Wilson reflecting on her earlier memories of the community and her neighbors. “We had a nice relationship,” she said, “we took care of each other’s children.” Wilson is not alone in remembering a friendlier neighborhood. This is part of the idea behind the name, PORCH. It beckons back to a simpler era of porch swings and good times, and neighbors connecting with neighbors and uniting a community.
“I like South Cape because of the people,” said Marvin McBride. ”They’re genuine. They’re real.” What changed in the neighborhood is complicated, but “it started, back in the day, and no one was connecting anymore,” said Councilwoman and PORCH Chairwoman Shelly Moore.
The PORCH initiative is South Cape’s “quarterback” group, the voice and vision of community initiatives in the PBC model. PORCH members are all residents of the neighborhood uniting several community groups. PORCH is working on an ambitious vision, that all residents should have a safe place to call home, and everyone should have the same opportunities to build a happy, healthy life. PORCH is localizing the PBC strategy of improved housing, wellness and education to alleviate crime and poverty. This strategy has proven successful in cities in several states.
Local philanthropist Earl Norman brought the PBC idea to the City of Cape Girardeau after reading about the concept in the Wall Street Journal over two years ago. City Manager Scott Meyer and then Mayor Harry Rediger, brought in PBC leadership, invited the schools to the table and gave the neighborhood a place to meet and plan together.
With the all of these people and agencies united in purpose, there has been as much progress as promise. Following a visit to a PBC school near Atlanta, Cape Girardeau Public Schools have announced their plans for a STREAM school out of Jefferson Elementary. The City has worked with the neighborhood to identify and correct issues like street lighting. Then Councilman Joe Uzoaru and other landlords hosted cleanup events called Alley Sweep. Community groups are working together and getting things done. “People are reaching out to people,” said City of Cape Girardeau Cpl. Richard Couch, “They’re trying to get things accomplished throughout the community and that’s something that is always going to work.”