Neighbors organize small-but-mighty volunteer organization.
On the corner of Central Avenue and Boulevard of the Arts sits a small, mosaic heart in front of a broken tile mural.
For its creator, Samantha Wuerfel, it’s a metaphor for her latest project — the Rosemary District Volunteer Coalition.
Wuerfel and her partner Michael Donahue passed the mural for months on their frequent walks from their apartment to downtown Sarasota.
“I was like ‘Somebody needs to do something about this,’ ” Wuerfel said. “I started to notice that some of the pieces are these really cool colors. I just started collecting them.”
But it wasn’t until recently that Wuerfel knew what to do with the broken shards.
She and Donahue were among the first to move into CitySide Apartments in December.
“It was kind of ‘The Shining’ for a while, because nobody else lived there,” Wuerfel remembered with a laugh.
But soon the building filled, and with its new residents came a kinetic culture of community.
“The people that are moving there are really excited about being there and want to help the community grow,”
In late spring, Donahue and Wuerfel had an idea.
They wanted to “just beautify the neighborhood as it grows — clean up, or plant trees or paint some fences,” Wuerfel said.
“When we started talking about this idea I was like, ‘I know what I’m going to do with these pieces!’ I’m going to make this heart and then we are going to launch our volunteer group,” she said.
The pair created a website and organized their first neighborhood cleanup event June 25. The Rosemary District Volunteer Coalition spent two hours collecting 15 bags of trash. For Wuerfel, each bag served as evidence of the necessity of an active volunteer organization in the area.
“We were worried that there wasn’t that much,” Wuerfel said. “And I mean there was so much trash. We could do this every six weeks for sure … This is our neighborhood and we want to be proud to live here.”
Wuerfel and Donahue say they have “a solid dozen” volunteers involved as of now, but are hoping that number grows. There are more than 1,000 residences currently under construction.
“We wanted to make sure that we were our own entity in the community, so that as it continues to grow, it’s not just a CitySide thing,” Wuerfel said.
For long-standing neighborhood activists such as Michael Bush, the volunteers are indicative of Rosemary’s growth. Bush is the president of the Rosemary District Neighborhood Association, which represents the area’s commercial and residential interests. He remembers when homelessness and safety were the neighborhood’s paramount concerns.
“It’s made a really, really good turn forward,” he said.
Bush said his organization’s goals are more overarching, focusing on the long-term cohesion of the neighborhood. Bush said he believes the two groups can work together.
“Certainly if they want to take on volunteer projects with the Rosemary District, I think that’s great. But we can certainly help their efforts if they understand that there is a Rosemary District Association,” Bush said. “We could actually bring them people if their goal is ... beautification.”
For now, Wuerfel and Donahue’s goals are humble — continue hosting cleanup events and growing their membership. But Wuerfel has big ideas.
“We need to put in a community garden, we need to build a playground. … I want to have Friday night dance parties in the streets,” Wuerfel said. “Those are obviously far reaching ideas right now, but I think it could be that.”
In the meantime, the group will continue filling bags with litter. It’s a simple action in the grand scheme. Yet Wuerfel said it’s an indication of the group’s mission just like her mosaic heart. It’s a matter of leaving your neighborhood better than they found it.
“It’s such a great little community,” Wuerfel said. “So this will represent the Rosemary District — this broken (mural) that we made pretty and that’s what’s going to happen to the neighborhood, too.”