Madlyn Hilton stood on the sidewalk outside her house, watching as volunteers piled limbs that had been trimmed from her crepe myrtle tree.

The volunteers, many from Victoria East High School’s baseball team, helped rein in and clean up the unruly branches during a neighborhood cleanup Saturday hosted by the Southside Community Coalition.

Hilton, 72, said she appreciated the “young help” from the teenage volunteers.

“I am past the 70 mark,” Hilton said, laughing as the volunteers helped her with the demanding physical labor. “People say ‘You don’t look it.’ I say, ‘I feel it!’”

Hilton has lived in the Southside neighborhood for decades, and keeping her community clean and tidy is a big part of what makes her street feel like home, she said.

“I think it’s encouraging to our young kids to see that that’s the way people live. We don’t live with a lot of junk,” Hilton said. “It’s better for the atmosphere and for the community that we have care (for our community). We care about what we do. And people think on the Southside, it don’t make any difference. And that’s not true.”

Building a sense of community in the Southside neighborhood, and changing the perception that others in Victoria have of the area, are two of the primary goals of the Southside Community Coalition. The group formed in January 2018 in partnership with Be Well Victoria, a grant-funded initiative at the Victoria County Public Health Department. Since then, the group has been working to build a network of community members who want to strengthen the area. In the last year, the coalition has partnered with Christ’s Kitchen to hand out free meals two days a week and with the Food Bank of the Golden Crescent for a monthly food distribution.

On Saturday, the group hosted one of its biggest events to date in partnership with the city of Victoria and the health department’s Be Well initiative. About 90 volunteers combed through the streets, moving debris and yard waste to the curb for pickup, helping with small repair jobs, collecting litter, and more. Volunteers targeted the area bordered by East Street and Port Lavaca Drive, near Hopkins Park. They specifically focused on about 20 houses that had asked for extra help with some more complex jobs, said Bethany Castro, an organizer with the Southside coalition.

Those more complicated jobs included Johnny Robles’ home, which he had been building by hand for almost a year before it was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey in 2017. Since then, Robles has been trying to clear the broken plumbing fixtures and sodden insulation so he can start over, and someday build his homestead. A team of volunteers helped Robles move some of the bulkiest trash to the curb. The city’s solid waste team will return to the neighborhood after the clean up to collect the trash and debris left out for pickup.

Robles and his family currently live in a smaller home across the street from the house that was destroyed by Harvey. While volunteers helped Robles clean up the unoccupied lot, the city’s Fire Marshal’s Office installed three free smoke detectors in the house where Robles and his family currently live. During Saturday’s cleanup, city employees went door-to-door offering residents free smoke detectors, lights for their front porches, library cards and flu shots. The city installed more than 100 free smoke detectors Saturday, said Ashley Strevel, the city’s communications director.

As Robles continued to clean up his future home, one block over Hilton pointed out the houses on her street and how she knew each resident. She graduated high school with her next-door neighbor in 1966, and she goes to church with the woman who lives a few doors down, she said, ticking off her neighbors one by one. These connections are why she loves where she lives, she said.

“The neighbors, we’re like family,” she said.

Read more about the Southside Community Coalition’s work in Victoria:

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Ciara McCarthy covers public health and health care for the Victoria Advocate as a Report for America corps member. You can reach her at cmccarthy@vicad.com or at 580-6597. To support local journalism at the Advocate through Report for America, go to VictoriaAdvocate.com/report.

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Health Reporter

Ciara McCarthy covers public health and health care for the Advocate as a Report for America corps member. Questions, tips, or ideas? Please get in touch: cmccarthy@vicad.com or call 361-580-6597.

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