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Group seeks progress for Oviedo’s underserved neighborhoods

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Editor’s note: The city of Oviedo responded to this article after it published. The article has been edited to reflect that response. 

On a stormy night 13 years ago, about 80 citizens brought their concerns on the conditions of their neighborhoods to the Oviedo City Hall.

It was on that illl-weathered night in June 2009 that the Improving Oviedo Neighborhoods Advisory Committee was formed to serve the Johnson-Hill, Washington Heights and Round Lake Estates neighborhoods.

“There was a lack of resources, there was a lack of support, there was a lack of concern for some of the lesser-served areas of Oviedo,” said William Jackson Jr, a member of ION’s steering committee. “Having been a lifelong resident of Oviedo that appalled and offended me. I felt like it was my civic duty to try to do something about that.”

He said that these communities are some of the most diverse in Oviedo, and they need help because they are low- to moderate-income communities.

“Most of the people who live there are seniors, working-class people, or recent transfers to Oviedo who cannot afford to move to The Sanctuary,” Jackson said. “So they moved to a lesser economic-based area.”

ION’s plan

ION’s original action plan focused on trying to keep the communities clean, safe, and in good condition. They created timelines for how they wanted to see things happen.

Oviedo’s City Council adopted ION’s action plan in 2009.

Since the city adopted it, they were able to accomplish some things like landscaping a right-of-way along Reed Avenue, an $18,000 Forest Health Improvement Initiative Grant, painted homes that were in disrepair, hosted clean-up days, and installed irrigation systems. That progress happened in 2011, and some short-term projects remain unfinished and big projects like building a park in the community are untouched a decade later.

City of Oviedo Spokeswoman Stephanie Wilken said the city is working with the ION committee to create an updated plan.

“There is no action at this time. When that updated development plan moves forward, the funding would be addressed during the budget process,” she said. 

Jackson said he feels a sense of urgency to make progress now. 

“I can’t wait another 10 or 15 years for us to decide that we want to build a park in the community,” Jackson said. “I may not be here in 10 years, but I care about what the committee is going to be like once I leave and that’s why I’m so passionate and concerned about what we are doing here.”

Setbacks

The pandemic made ION stop meeting for nearly two years. Jackson said that it made some people reluctant to come to the ION meetings and to answer the surveys because they felt that the city was not helping them effect change.

“I feel it would be inappropriate to move on when you haven’t addressed the concerns of a small pocket of citizens who are mostly long-term residents who have concerns,” Jackson said.

He said that since the ION community is a smaller community, it feels the impact of unresolved issues greater than a big community.

The comeback

Now, ION is trying to get back on track and they are creating a new action plan to address people’s concerns and get the support of the city of Oviedo.

ION’s first step is hosting a community cleanup on April 2 at Refreshing Springs Primitive Baptist Church from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. where they will be distributing a survey so the residents can voice their concerns.

Also, they will be providing the ION neighborhoods a cleanup, meals, doing minor landscaping, painting, and pressure washing homes.

ION will partner with nonprofits Core Faith Church’s Lift Up Oviedo, Brother’s with Helping Hands, Johnson Hill-Washington Heights Community Outreach, Oviedo Citizens in Action and Core Faith Church as well as The Florida Department of Health in Seminole County and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office to assist with the cleanup.

Raquel Cordero Rivera, the prayer and outreach officer at Core Faith Church, which is within a mile from the ION communities, said that the church wants to help the community with the clean up as well as providing a place to find peace.

“Our doors are open for them in their time of need,” Cordero Rivera said. “Sometimes depending on the situations that happen in the world, we are trying to look for someone or someplace that we could go and maybe talk to someone that we can trust and just feel at peace. As a believing community, we just want to be there for them.”

Cordero Rivera will also help translate the survey information for people who only speak Spanish.

Jimmy Boston, Brother’s with Helping Hands founder and a 30-year resident of the Johnson Hill-Washington Heights neighborhood, said the ION neighborhoods are good neighborhoods with good people and they just need to fix the problems that every neighborhood has.

“If you need help, let us help,” Boston said. “Don’t be ashamed — if there is something we can do, we all as a neighborhood, we should be able to do it together.”

Clean-up event

ION is hosting a spring clean-up event from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 2 at Refreshing Springs Primitive Baptist Church, 291 Denis Street in Oviedo. Burgers and hot dogs will be served. For more information, contact Ben Williams at 407-920-1070.

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