Betty Starks sat on her porch reminiscing about the community she's called home for more than three quarters of a century.
The 76-year-old woman, who lives on 44th Street near Sherwood Avenue, remembers when Beallwood was a tight-knit, predominantly black enclave where so many people were related that people had to be careful who they dated.
So when Starks returned to Columbus 20 years ago, after traveling the world as a military spouse, she returned to Beallwood for her retirement years.
"The original Beallwood, it was so beautiful," she said one day last week, sitting across the street from the Greater Beallwood Baptist Church, where she has been a life-long member. "The whole place was kept up, the houses, the grounds, everything was kept up. You didn't see no trash, or screen doors or nothing torn or anything."
But Starks and some former residents said Beallwood has changed over the years. It is now mostly a rental community attracting people of various ethnic backgrounds, including many Hispanic laborers. Starks says everyone gets along, for the most part, but the neighborhood could use some sprucing up. Now, it looks like her prayers will soon be answered.
On Monday, NeighborWorks Columbus will launch a neighborhood revitalization project called Big 4 Beallwood, which will bring hundreds of volunteers to the neighborhood for several weeks of construction, rehabilitation and landscaping projects. Volunteers will include 350 youths from a mission-based national organization called TeamEffort. Other partners include Habitat for Humanity, the city of Columbus, Girls Inc. and other organizations.
The kickoff will be held 9 a.m. Monday at the Kolb Avenue Girls Inc., which is located in the Beallwood neighborhood. On Thursday, the community will celebrate with a block party, 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., at Charlie Hill Park.
Cathy Williams, NeighborWork's executive director, said Beallwood was selected for the revitalization project because it already had infrastructure, neighborhood stability and a strong leadership base. In addition to helping enhance existing structures, NeighborWorks will build eight rental units for veterans and surviving spouses living in substandard housing in Beallwood. The organization also just completed the construction of a house and will be building another one soon. And Habitat for Humanity will be building four additional homes, Williams said.
"Beallwood is a very wonderful neighborhood. It's ideally located, close to absolutely everything, whether it's downtown, uptown, Phenix City, north Columbus or Midtown. It's just perfectly located. It's a great school district. It's a very safe neighborhood.
"As a matter of fact, the Office of Crime Prevention said it was safer than the neighborhood that I live in and safer than most of the other neighborhoods," said Williams, who lives in the Historic District. "So it's just an ideal neighborhood for families. It's got a great park. It has great infrastructure. So we know it's going to be very successful."
Yet, the neighborhood has gained somewhat of a negative reputation over the years because of appearances, Williams said. To prepare for the project, NeighborWorks used a mobile application called Vacant Voices to document the location and condition of vacant and abandoned properties in the neighborhood.
"There is some commercial encroachment but it's really not as bad as you might think, and what some people think about Beallwood," Williams told volunteers at a recent planning meeting. She said the number of owner-occupied residential units is very low, and the Big 4 Beallwood project will help to boost those numbers.
Williams said the Big 4 Beallwood project will target the area bounded by Alexander Street on the north, 14th Avenue on the east, Kolb Avenue on the west and 45th street on the south.
According to the most recent U.S. Census statistics available, an estimated 15 percent of the residents living in that area between 2008 and 2012 owned their homes. Of the people living there during that period, 27 percent were white, 69 percent were black and 30 percent were Hispanic.
Twenty-two percent of the population was over the age of 65, 45 percent were of working age, 33 percent were under 18, and 6 percent were under 5 years old. The median household income for the area was $12,430, compared to a state median of $49,604. And according to the Department of Homeland Security, the area was home to 26,134 people who were granted Legal Permanent Residence status in 2012.
Among those excited about the Big 4 Beallwood project is Wanda Amos, owner of the Columbus Cottonmouths hockey team, who lived in Beallwood until after high school.
Amos, now 51, said her father died when she was 10 years old, and her mother did domestic work to support four children. Her family was one of the few white families living in the predominantly black neighborhood, she said, and it was like one big family.
"It was still a poor neighborhood then, but we had a lot more people and it was just a good neighborhood," she said. "All the neighbors helped each other."
"It didn't matter about the color," she added. "I mean, I'm white, but I didn't see color because we were all just pulling together to do what we had to do."
Amos, who is married to Shelby Amos, the son of Aflac co-founder John Amos, said she would like to find out more about the home her family rented while she was growing up. It's located at 4712 11th Ave., she said, and NeighborWorks is helping her do the research.
"My dream has always been to try to do something to that house," she said. "You could put a Habitat for Humanity house there or improve it. So they're looking to see who owns that house."
Amos said she also has a special place in her heart for the Kolb Avenue Girls Inc., where she spent a lot of time as a child and developed confidence. She currently sits on the Girls Inc. board and is one of the volunteers for the Big 4 Beallwood revitalization project.
"When I was in Beallwood, I never thought I would be where I am today," she said. "I feel like if God blesses you, you have to give back and remember where you came from."
The Rev. Adrian Chester, pastor of the Greater Beallwood Baptist Church at 4419 Sherwood Ave., said Beallwood has been a forsaken area.
"It has a great history," he said. "A lot of great people came out of this predominantly African-American neighborhood."
"This community has changed over the years," he said. "We still have some of those people from the 1960s who still live here, but because of people going off to college and things of that nature, and their first chance of getting out of Beallwood, they left. But one thing that remains is their family roots here."
Chester said many of his church members are people who grew up in the neighborhood and now live in other areas. But they still flock to the church every Sunday and remain active in the congregation.
One such member is Willard Culpepper, 67, chairman of the deacon board. Culpepper said he grew up next to where the church is now located, and his grandmother's house is where the church's new sanctuary now exists. He said his grandmother sold the property to the church in the 1980s and the sanctuary was completed in 2004.
"It was a typical African-American neighborhood in the '50s and '60s," said Culpepper, who now lives in Midland.
"You had apartments on one side, and then you had smaller houses all over the neighborhood and it was good community to grow up in. You know how they say, 'It takes a village to raise a child?' Well, that's how we lived and the children respected everybody."
He said the dynamics of the neighborhood began to change as he and his peers became upwardly mobile.
"This community didn't have the nicer homes that they were building," he said. "So when we, as young people, grew up, got jobs and were able to afford a home, we bought in communities that had brick houses because most of the homes in Beallwood were mostly wooden, shotgun houses and some were eventually torn down."
Culpepper said many of the Hispanics who now live in the neighborhood are now renting houses that black residents once owned.
On Thursday, a group of Hispanic men stood outside a row of green duplexes next to Betty Starks' home. They said they were construction workers and painters who had recently come from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico for work. Some lived with a 49-year-old man who emigrated from Mexico seven years ago. He was in the back cooking them a meal.
Around the corner on 17th Avenue, other immigrants dined at a Hispanic restaurant and grocery store called Restaurante Y Taqueria. Others patronized El Amigo Aseguranza, which provides immigration, insurance and tax services.
A few blocks away, at Harrison Avenue and 44th Street, Hiver Santiago, 35, worked on his yard surrounded by his wife and three children.
Santiago said he emigrated from Mexico 15 years ago and settled in Beallwood, along with other Hispanic laborers.
Now, he owns his own painting business and the house the family had rented for several years.
While a group of Hispanic landscapers worked on his property, Santiago said he was glad to hear about the Big 4 Beallwood project and hoped it would make a difference in the community.
"I love it here," he said. "It's quiet, it's good. I never have any problems."