Belleville’s vision for the future is one where the community works together to prosper and become a model for other communities. To accomplish this vision, the city takes lessons learned from the past and melds them with new and innovative ideas to make Belleville a better place to live, work, and play. The Community Development Network (CDN) increases collaboration with citizens, social and civic organizations, churches, schools, the business community, local government, and more. Working committees from this network were formed to address issues such as inclusion, health and wellness and homelessness.
Addressing Homelessness in Belleville
A mixture of economic and social factors, including a nearby city’s shelter closure, has increased Belleville’s susceptibility to the adverse impacts of negative economic fluctuations. As a result, there are more people experiencing homelessness and dealing with undue financial burdens.
Numerous programs have been developed to address the problem:
Center of Hope: The Homelessness Backbone Support Group of the CDN opened the Center of Hope (COH), a collaborative effort between the City of Belleville, the Salvation Army, Catholic Urban Programs, and Beacon Ministries.
COH functions as a daytime center where people experiencing homelessness or near-homelessness can come for services such as a meal, showers, laundry service, assistance finding permanent housing, employment services, and counseling.
General and Community Assistance Office: Programs from this office work to support and strengthen residents in need through general assistance, emergency grants, and referrals to community resources.
The office hosts two Suds of Love events every month; the program provides free laundry services for those without the means to maintain clean clothing.
Belleville Community Development Corporation (BCDC): This community housing development organization buys distressed single-family homes, renovates them, and sells them to qualified buyers whose income meets HUD’s low-to-moderate income guidelines.
Since its inception in 2011, the BCDC has renovated 10 homes throughout the City of Belleville. These renovations have saved homes, revitalized neighborhoods, and provided local families with access to affordable, safe, and modern housing.
Connecting Young People with the Community
Several initiatives were created to connect youth to the community because the The Inclusion Committee of the CDN determined that young people were among the most disconnected and underserved.
Belleville Sack Lunch Program: Various churches, schools, businesses, and organizations collaborate to provide lunch over the summer months to youth throughout the community. The program receives referrals from the school districts throughout Belleville in order to identify the number of children who may face food insecurity. From that, a cadre of volunteers secures supplies, makes lunches, and delivers the lunches to various neighborhoods at standing drop points
Drive Away Hunger : This food drive fills up an entire school bus with food donations and distributes them to local food pantries. Over 165,000 food items have been collected, serving hundreds of families.
Backpack to School: To assist school districts and ensure that local students have school supplies, the Greater Belleville Chamber of Commerce created the Backpack to School Fun Fair. The event offers backpacks filled with school supplies to local students as well as a vendor fair that includes school physicals, dental exams, games, etc.
Belleville Helping Belleville Day: Every September the Belleville Achieves Strength In Character initiative holds an event that brings more than 100 volunteers together to perform service projects geared toward youth. Hundreds of children have been served by more than 700 volunteers that have participated in the event.
Belleville Gets Healthier Together
In response to rising health concerns throughout the City of Belleville, civic leaders, residents, and community organizers worked together to create a network of health and wellness initiatives for the community.
The City of Belleville became an early adopter of the five principles of Collective Impact when they teamed up with the new grassroots initiative, Get Up & Go! The initiative began with a 30-day group health and fitness challenge and emerged as a movement to connect groups and communities through activities that promote improved health and wellness.
The mayor and city employees joined the Get Up & Go! 30-day challenge by initiating a Biggest Loser contest, and a weekly neighborhood-based ‘Walk with the Mayor’ program. The city also joined Get Up & Go! to establish a small grant-based funding program to support efforts to promote active living and healthy eating. That funding is distributed to local schools, neighborhood associations, churches and workplaces based on need and capacity to collaborate across groups.
As the programming grew, the Neighborhood Recognition program was established for any neighborhood association willing to organize to promote citizen use of parks, bicycle riding paths, walking trails, community gardens and other infrastructures that support physical activity, social connectedness and healthy eating.
Additionally, the city has worked to increase its support for family friendly events that focus on health and physical fitness. As of 2019, the city has 21 recurring events, including 5ks, bicycle races, and even a Boston qualifying marathon, which has had 875 participants to date. The city also plans to expand their 19 miles of paved trails and connect them with other communities in the coming years.