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Jessie Lisle helps build neighborhood

Dispatch/Argus Photo By Gary Krambeck

Like a talented jeweler, Jessie Lisle, leader of the Douglas Park Addition's neighborhood association, is shaping and polishing a diamond in the rough: the 800-home area in southwest Rock Island.

ROCK ISLAND -- Douglas Park residents call it a diamond in the rough today, but with Jessie Lisle's guidance, the neighborhood is becoming one of Rock Island's most sparkling jewels.

Ms. Lisle heads the Douglas Park Addition's neighborhood association, which includes 800 households in the west central part of Rock Island. Her neighborhood also hosts Grant Intensive Basic School, the newly renovated Century Woods Apartments and a baseball park.

Sometimes, people think Douglas Park refers just to the baseball diamonds, Ms. Lisle said. However, she will be the first to identify the neighborhood's other highlights which benefit its residents.

The neighborhood association draws participants from about 35 percent of its potential members, Ms. Lisle said. The group sponsors five major events each year, including:

-- Spring cleanup: ``We do our own yards and help each other out,'' Ms. Lisle said. ``We let people know how to discard insulin, toxic substances, tires and appliances. They can sign up if they need help moving heavy items.''

-- Labor Day parade: ``We usually make a float or signs and march as a group,'' Ms. Lisle said. ``Last year, we decorated a van and carried banners and balloons.''

-- Family Fun Daze: This summer event brings residents, social service agencies, musical groups and community groups together for food, education and fun at the Martin Luther King Center.

-- Fall cleanup: Similar to spring cleanup.

-- Parade of Lights: Participation in the home- and yard-lighting contest for the winter holidays has been growing every year, Ms. Lisle said.

Douglas Park is mostly homes rather than apartments or duplexes, which lends stability attractive to people looking for a house to buy, Ms. Lisle said. A lot of elderly people also maintain the neighborhood's roots, she said.

Getting Douglas Park residents to work together on special events or to solve a particular problem is fairly easy, Ms. Lisle said. Obtaining their on-going commitment, however, is another matter.

``Having lived in Rock Island since I was 18, I started seeing some of the needs of the people living here,'' she said. ``People here are good about turning out and pulling together, but it's hard to keep them committed.''

Ms. Lisle is not one to mellow out when a crisis passes. Instead, she sees the need to stay involved, so problems will not redevelop.

Creating more places for Douglas Park children to learn and play is high on her list of priorities.

``We need more organizations geared to preventing youth from getting into trouble,'' she said.

Although Ms. Lisle applauds the youth programs sponsored by the Martin Luther King Center, Century Woods and Christian Friendliness, she said the demand is greater than the number they can serve.

``We need more cultural programs,'' she said. ``We need the city to contribute more money and for people not to be afraid to learn about different cultures and talk about racism.''

When Douglas Park residents become more active, Ms. Lisle hopes they will establish a youth group to sponsor neighborhood activities.

``They know better than someone my age (39) about what kinds of things kids would want to do,'' she said. ``The youth group also would be a place to train them to take over the Douglas Park neighborhood association.''

With or without a youth group, she hopes the city will work with the neighborhood's young people to upgrade the Jaycees Park on 8th Street.

``When you help people participate by planting flowers or shrubs, the next time they walk by the park, they'll be less likely to destroy it,'' Ms. Lisle said. ``If they help build it, they'll help protect it.''

While young people work in the park, she said, their schools can teach them important lessons about plants and animals.

Ms. Lisle also has a more concrete vision: a neighborhood center with a meeting room and offices for meetings, special events, classes and use by all Rock Island residents.

Ms. Lisle is well known in Rock Island. She helped get Rock Island Plating Works demolished, which added space to Rauch Family Park; she sits on the board of Project NOW, the Rock Island Economic Growth Corp. and Neighborhood Partners.

Douglas Park also provides a focus for her work upgrading the 11th Street Corridor and her membership in the local Breast Cancer Coalition.

While some of the coalition's women target minorities in churches, Ms. Lisle said she talks with those who don't go to church. The coalition explains why people should take advantage of free mammograms and cervical checkups.

``People should not go once but continue monitoring their health,'' she said. ``I've got a big interest in health care due to my health problems and my job as a nurse's aide. That makes it easy for me to relate with what people are dealing with.''

-- By Carol Loretz (February 2, 1998)

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