Neighbors pitch in to clean up East Tampa yard by yard, block by block

Donna Cooper lives in Grant Park in East Tampa, a historic neighborhood, but she was in danger of having to leave her home because it needed some debris moved, such as fallen tree limbs along with some plant removal. 

Cooper, a 43-year-old single mom whose family home was serviced during a community cleanup on a sunny and warm Saturday (Dec. 11), was astonished to see how the community came together to help her and her family.

“There was a lot of people here today. I was just thinking there was going to be a handful of people, but this is a really good turnout,” says Cooper.

The home, built in 1926 by her great-grandfather, is where she, as well as all of her children, was born and raised. The home was passed down to her eldest son through a family member’s will and he plans to keep the house for Cooper.

Community members rallied around her family to fix up the house the best they could.

Tampa Fire and Rescue workers were among those getting their hands dirty to clean up the home. Fire Chief Barbara Tripp was there working alongside other volunteers. This is her third time helping out at one of these events and she understands the impact that this has on the community.

“It means that America is still strong; it shows that everyone is involved regardless of gender, regardless of race, regardless of ethnicity,” says Tripp. “We are still strong and pulling together to help each other out.”
 
Residents of East Tampa came together to help clean up homes such as Cooper’s in the East Tampa neighborhood. The effort was led by Kella McCaskill.

Empowering underserved communities

McCaskill is the president and CEO of the Center for Economic Development. The program focuses on empowering underserved communities by doing services such as the cleanup.

Along with finding the volunteers to help clean up the homes, an important aspect of the service is finding the funds to be able to support the cause.

Organizers came to the Tampa City Council to ask for financial help to put together the neighborhood cleanup. Councilman John Dingfelder supported the cause and the city helped fund McCaskill’s cleanup. 

“We gave them a $1,000 per house,” Dingfelder says. “We pay people to come with chainsaws and snacks for the volunteers and tools.”

He believes that events like these can make a change for the better and is looking forward to more cleanups like this one.

“If you can fix up one house, one house at a time, you are really fixing up the whole community,” says Dingfelder.

McCaskill says she would love to see more funding come their way to aid with their efforts.

“What I would like to see happen is where I am able to fund the cleanup but also facilitate a rehab,” McCaskill says. “Whether that be just a roof or if it’s the flooring, fix the windows … anything that is a safety issue that I could fix it at the center rather than waiting for the city.”

Giving back one home at a time

McCaskill grew up in Tampa, with parents who grew up in West Tampa and East Tampa. She founded the nonprofit Center for Economic Development after her work as a Realtor with Keller Williams Channelside led her to a revelation about how to keep older or disabled residents or veterans in their homes in older, lower-income neighborhoods. She was referred to a woman who wanted to sell her home, but after some conversation, she found that the woman merely couldn’t care for the home and it had fallen into disrepair. That led to her creating her nonprofit and organizing community cleanups.

“The goal was to help mitigate gentrification because I've been called out as a Realtor to the area several times and they wanted to sell the home. But when I saw the reasoning for the sale, it was oftentimes just the houses need a little TLC,” she says. “Let me show you how just some light TLC can help you stay here. And then we can help you apply for any services that might be available where they can help you rehab the home as a senior, they might be able to help you replace the home as a senior, particularly since you're functional. You're just not able to do this type of labor.’’

All of the volunteers’ efforts are being put to a good cause and they extend an open invitation to anyone looking to help clean up Tampa neighborhoods. Their next event will be held on April 2, 2022. You can find more information about the next cleanup by checking the Center for Economic Development’s Facebook page.

Breanna Godwin, a graduate of South Florida State College with an A.A., attends the University of South Florida, where she is studying to complete her bachelor’s degree in Mass Communications with a focus on broadcast journalism. She grew up in Hardee County south of Tampa and now works as a merchandising assistant at Streamsong Golf resort and spa in Polk County.

Ricardo Perez, a student at the University of South Florida, takes classes at the Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications and expects to graduate in fall of 2022 with a degree in Mass Communications, Broadcast Program and Production concentration. A native of upstate New York, his family moved to Florida when he was only 3. He grew up mainly in the Wesley Chapel area and attended Wesley Chapel High School, which offered a TV Production program that started his passion for broadcasting.