Hammers, Hearts, Heroes
By Jonathan Pearson on Monday, June 20th, 2011
While the NPCA will be marking the 50th anniversary of passage of the Peace Corps Act this September, the city of Dallas will be marking 25 years of an outstanding community service project that has roots and connections to an often forgotten Peace Corps dividend here at home.
As Mary Ellen Ewing (Senegal 79-80) put it during the seventh and final stop on our week-long advocacy swing through Texas, “Hearts and Hammers is really the heroic story” of the local member group, the North Texas Peace Corps Association (NTPCA).
And what a story it is, recalled by three members of the original core group who got things rolling. However, North Texas group leader Gary Zimny (Solomon Islands 77-80), along with Tim Barry (Bahrain 76-78) and Dennis Ashworth (Fiji 79-81) are quick to point out that it was RPCV Bob Walker (who later moved to Minneapolis and launched a similar initiative), who served as the founder and driving force behind the Dallas project.
The project – like many others – began with modest goals. Dallas RPCVs came together in the mid 1980′s with an interest in conducting a community service project. They decided to hold a yard clean up in a low income neighborhood. A year later, they identified a financially strapped homeowner whose house was falling into disrepair. The RPCVs assembled a group of volunteers to paint the house.
In the third year, several houses were painted.
By the fourth year, officials with the Dallas Department of Neighborhood Services were so impressed by this effort they began to work with the RPCVs to identify more homeowners who had fallen on hard times and needed assistance to keep the exteior of their homes in compliance with city codes.
It was 1986 when this RPCV community service project was transformed into a formal non-profit organization. This coming September 17th, at least 2,000 volunteers representing the Dallas business community, faith community, private organizations and others will form teams and refurbish approximately 70 homes. “The city likes it,” says Zimny. “it maintains the housing stock of the city. It’s a great project, a lot of hard work.” Zimny should know, as this September will mark his 22nd year as Team Captain for the house assigned for refurbishment by the NTPCA.
For Barry, this marks the 23rd year that he has served on the Hearts and Hammers Planning Council, which is responsible for all aspects of the one-day service event including fundraising, gathering materials, forming volunteer teams and coordinating projects with the city. “It’s a sustaining project. The volunteers have a great time, and it’s really important for people to be involved in their community.”
Follow this link for photographs from our just completed Texas trip. And be on the lookout for some upcoming videos featuring more voices of the Texas Peace Corps community.