A Hickory Hill congregation is taking back our neighborhoods one street at a time.
250 members of New Direction Christian Church spent Saturday cleaning 14 miles of land, targeting troubled streets and sites around Memphis' Hickory Hill area.
The church's senior pastor, Dr. Stacey Spencer, says it's crucial for every member of our community to take on the task of making Memphis a better place to live.
"We know that kind of stuff is contagious," he said. " And so, when people see us caring about the community, hopefully that person will go to their neighbor's yard and pick up something, and that neighbor pick up something. So, we're just trying to inspire some change and some vested interest in Hickory Hill."
Busloads of enthusiastic volunteers from New Direction set out on a mission Saturday morning to transform Hickory Hill.
"We're trying to infect this place with pride and hope," said Spencer.
Spencer began his "Transform the Hood for Good" campaign seven years ago.
"We just believe that when people see the hope and the passion of us cleaning up, and a smile while we're doing it, that's going to spread throughout Hickory Hill."
Neighbors worry that abandoned properties with overgrown grass and broken windows will become easy-access crime dens.
"We're cutting the grass at that home because it's fostering crime. People are hiding behind the bushes, we're cutting down bushes," said Spencer. "Just trying give people the hope that people care, that there's an anchor church here."
Last year, church members painted over graffiti on buildings.
"This year, we went to try to find graffiti, we couldn't find any in Hickory Hill," said Spencer.
Spencer says that, depite tough financial times, church members dug into their own pockets to purchase all the supplies.
And he says it's definitely not in vain.
"Every street we clean up, every house we clean up, it made a difference to that one and there's going to be a ripple effect. So, we're just believing it's going to spread from house to house, block to block, church to church."
And other churches did lend a helping hand Saturday.
"We have 14 miles of streets that we're cleaning, and we've had some assistance from Central Church in transportation as well as Collierville First Pentecostal," said Morris Fuller of New Life Church.
Spencer says this is the eighth cleanup the church has organized since a tornado hit Hickory Hill earlier this year.
"That's real impressive to the neighborhood," said neighbor Christopher Boyce. "Maybe we can make a difference out here."