Angela Bomgaars has learned the hard way that graffiti cleanup can be a never-ending cycle. Oftentimes she and volunteers finish removing spray paint from an alley only to find it returns soon after.
“It’s frustrating, but that’s the reality of why it’s important to do that. If we keep painting it, they’ll eventually go somewhere else,” she said.
Bomgaars is the executive director of Extreme Community Makeover, a nonprofit organization set on improving several underserved Denver neighborhoods through beautification, helping residents with landscaping and home exterior improvements as well as alley cleanups and graffiti removal.
The organization is heading into its eighth year and has expanded from two neighborhoods its first year to eight throughout the city — West Colfax, La Alma/Lincoln Park, Westwood, Barnum, Globeville, Villa Park, Elyria and Swansea.
Bomgaars is the only full-time staffer. She said it would be difficult to expand further without either adding staff or reducing the work in each neighborhood.
“Based on the work we’re doing, the more you expand, the less deep you can get into each neighborhood,” she said.
Still, Bomgaars remains committed to having around 60 work days per year among the neighborhoods and has had the help of roughly 3,500 volunteers annually the past few years.
Some of those work days have more than 300 volunteers participating, while others are smaller and led by a core group of regulars.
Linda Hofschire has been volunteering with her husband since 2011 and serves on one of Bomgaars’ committees by photographically documenting most work days.
Hofschire said she enjoys connecting with the community she is serving and helping residents connect with one another.
“I really love the approach that the organization takes,” Hofschire said. “It’s not just about other people coming in, doing work and leaving. It’s really about partnering with people who live in the neighborhood and helping residents connect with each other.”
Most cleanup days are prefaced by Extreme Community Makeover adopting several blocks in a neighborhood and having volunteers knock on residents’ doors to see if they are interested in getting help on landscaping, house painting or any other work outside.
The work is often things that can be done much easier in large groups, or help for elderly residents who aren’t up for working in their yards as much. The group only does work that can be done by volunteers — it does not do roof replacements, tree removals or anything that requires a specialist. Volunteers ask that residents chip in for supplies and do what they can to assist.
“Cleaning up a neighborhood is beneficial to everyone,” said Daron Linton, another volunteer. “If a neighborhood is nicer, more people come.”
In the West Colfax neighborhood — the first to be adopted by Extreme Community Makeover in 2008 — West Colfax Association of Neighbors board member Jim Dietvorst has lent his time to some of the efforts and noticed the positive community response.
He said there were people who lived on a block but had never spoken to each other to make a connection.
“It’s allowed people to meet in the neighborhood,” Dietvorst said. “It’s extremely rewarding for everyone involved.”
Bomgaars said the organization became a nonprofit in 2011 and raises money each year, most of which goes to supplies for projects. The group’s biggest fundraising event is Art is in the Air on Nov. 13.
Bomgaars said she has no immediate plans to expand. Her top goal is to get each community activated and build relationships between the neighbors.
She added: “At end of day, that’s what being part of a community is all about.
Joe Vaccarelli: 303-954-2396, firstname.lastname@example.org or @joe_vacc