WALTON — Barry Wentz stood on a street corner in Walton Saturday morning and started pointing at houses. One that had a new coat of paint on a porch, another with a new porch and a third with work done by volunteers as part of a community revitalization effort.
"I have a scraper that will fit your hand," he said, hoping to get a few minutes of volunteer help from whoever was willing to give it.
He, and a number of other volunteers were already deep into the work of putting on some new siding and painting a house at 301 W. Grant, the fourth project done by a small but mighty group.
"As a community, as we help some people improve their properties, others around take more pride and it lifts the community as a whole and makes it a better community for all our citizens," Wentz said. "We are a small community with a limited number, but we keep growing with the number of people. We are making a difference where we can with volunteers."
Wentz is the mayor of Walton, but he does not take credit for what is happening in the small town when it comes to neighborhood revitalization. He will willfully speak about how there are really only two options for properties which are, or are becoming, dilapidated. He can point out the four that have been rehabbed, and one that is being torn down before the city gets involved with a condemnation.
He gives the credit for what has happened this year to Michele Ediger, a teacher in the Newton school district who lives on the edge of Walton — across the street from the Walton Rural Life Center.
She is "president of the board" for Revitalize Walton, a grass roots effort to help improve the quality of life in the small town of about 235 people, according to the most recent census.
"I had an idea simultaneously when the city was looking at these issues and the school board was bouncing around the idea of if they were going to keep the Walton school," Ediger said. "The Lions club was aware of a neighbor that had some needs and some health issues. It all happened about the same time serendipitously where we all see needs in our community. There is a small contingent of people who are very service minded. They are usually the same ones who volunteer as firefighters, volunteer on the city council or do Lions."
Ediger put together a couple of community meetings and talked with the Lions club. They were able to target a project — and two other applications for possible projects came in at about the same time.
In some situations, homeowners could afford the materials for the project they needed to be done. What they lacked was manpower. Those are the situations Ediger says is ideal for Revitalize Walton.
Revitalize Walton picked up "seed money" in the form of a grant from the Et Cetera shop in Newton. There have also been private donations — both cash and materials.
According to revitalizewalton.com the community's median population has aged, and others are disabled – making ends meet is a struggle for many. Homes have fallen into disrepair, making them uncomfortable and unsafe. The organization's goal is to assist homeowners with simple exterior home repairs and painting.
"I had a dream," Ediger said. "I was looking at homes, I do not want to judge people, I just want to help people. There are some low-income folks and some folks with handicaps. I thought I am going to put it out there. Let's raise some funds and manpower and see if anyone is interested in helping.
All told, there have been four projects. Ediger said it is likely that there will not be another this year. The group will take a look at similar projects for 2018.
"A town like Walton is struggling to survive in this century," Ediger said. "We need to have fresh ideas to keep people wanting to live there. We have to sustain our community.