[click here for part I]

“You remember the story of Nehemiah?” Rev. Martin asked. “Before he got there, no one was doing anything. But when he got there, the whole city got together and started working. The people had a mind to work.”

The spirit of community and mission appealed to the best in the Hoosier community. There was a holistic approach to restoring the neighborhood and you didn’t exactly have to twist arms to get folks to participate because the virus of generosity spread quickly as folks got caught up in the “what can I do?” attitude. There were can food drives to stock food banks. Different vendors pitched in where they could, from J. Ennis Fabrics donating fabric then wanting to go on to teach sewing lessons at the donated community center; to AV Framing Gallery donating pictures to be hung inside the home.

Though prepped by the producers a few weeks earlier, no one knew for sure which house would be selected. All they knew was that the streets would be blocked off and folks would be given the option to stay in nearby hotels during the duration because of the noise and inconvenience. Mark Smith, a student at Martin University, had lived in neighborhood for four years. “At 6:30 in the morning, our house was shaking when all the people marched down the street. It’s been a positive impact and will hopefully be an incentive for people to keep their property up.”

Some residents had been in the neighborhood for over 32 years, seeing things like this on television but never expecting to see it in real life, much less in their neighborhood. Everyone pulled together to continue to improve the neighborhood. The Estridge led crews landscaped the property of Martin University. Wheelchair ramps were built for houses who needed them. The entire neighborhood was equipped with wifi and Dell donated computers to all of the IPS students who live there. Marian College will be providing tutoring and literacy training at the local elementary school in Martindale-Brightwood (IPS School #51) and also at the new community center. Crews painted some of the surrounding houses, paved the alleys, and cleaned up the trash. Over 1200 trees, six miles worth, were planted.

“Thank God for the Rain”

This experienced even changed how people spoke about neighborhood. Everyone had stories. Neighborhood children baked cookies for the production crew. There was a story of a little girl bringing her “Jesus money” to donate to the project. Even inclement weather became an opportunity to serve. That Sunday, the weather was awful during one of the “hurry up and wait” moments before the volunteers could do their “Braveheart march”. The Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church opened its doors and welcomed the volunteers in from the cold and rain. The crowd filled out the balcony, the choir section, and the basement. Jessie Hickman admitted that they were “caught a little bit off guard, but the people were so friendly and then they wanted to hear some singing.” The church stopped teaching their Sunday School class and started a prayer service for them which included prayer, dancing, and singing. Everyone was invited to tap along to a rendition of “Let it Rain” which gave goosebumps to the listeners.

“I think the church had a profound effect on them,” Jessie Hickman went on to say. The collection plate was a little fuller than usual. The church remained open all week, servicing the needs of whoever walked through its doors. The Estridge group re-sided it and also did some landscaping. Says another parishioner, Kathy Griffin, “they were an answer to prayer. It’s truly a blessing coming down from God.”

Reverend Martin summed up the experience this way, “God is a God of restoration. He’s restoring hope in this neighborhood. He’s restoring lives. He’s restoring dignity.”

All of this started with one man, Bernard McFarland, a school teacher going about his business, trying to make a difference one child at a time. His life caught the attention of the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition production team. Their mission coincided with Paul Estridge’s and a community was forever changed. As the wave of beautification extended out from the McFarland home, everyone’s hope is that it continues to spread. No one wants things to stop with this project but want to see it replicated in other neighborhoods.

“With the revitalization that’s going on, you’re seeing a spark. People want to try to do what they can for the neighborhood. It can’t help but rub off,” Jessica Hickman said. “I know people are going to keep up. If you see it beautifying, what are you going to do? You’re going to pick and help at least maintain it.”

“Shout all you want to!”

April 4th, at 2:45 p.m., Bernard McFarland, his sons, his family, and his neighbors yelled “Move that bus!” and finally saw the results of a community pulling together. It was a cathartic celebration, the payoff moment, for a community rally and neighborhood family coming together. Not only had Bernard leapt out of limo at his return to his neighborhood, but ran up the street once he saw his new home for the first time … so that he could high five his neighbors. “Shout all you want to!” some cried out. At one moment it looked like Bernard was going to runoff with Paul Estridge. Then came his grand shout: “Thank you community!!!”

The house at 2356 N. Oxford St is like the proverbial city on the hillside, a light in the darkness. It serves as a beachhead to reclaim the rest of the neighborhood. Both a point of pride and a symbol of community cooperation, it illustrates the power of transformation.

In many ways, we’ve lost the community spirit of sitting out on our porches. It seems like we are determined to keep moving away from each other (in the name of “escaping the crime” and “those people”); and if we can’t move, we build fences from one another. Maybe we ought to answer our own question of “who is my neighbor” by sitting out and getting to know them; learn the comings and goings of our neighborhood and maybe keep an eye out for each other. We need to take ownership of our neighborhoods, even in the tiniest of ways.

Caring about our neighborhoods means spreading a viral concern to “love thy neighbor.” Not just keeping a vigilant eye, but having a proactive mindset, one that fixes problems as we see them. If we are truly to be lights in a world of darkness, the least we can do is start by fixing a broken window and being a good neighbor. That’s the work that Paul Estridge and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition began and the residents of Martindale-Brightwood hope to continue.