The work of cultivating connection and change in the Washington School neighborhood is spearheaded by Lisa Kasten. Lisa directs the efforts of Washington School Neighbors (WSN), an independent nonprofit neighborhood development corporation. WSN runs the neighborhood garden, recruits, equips and mobilizes block connectors, supports neighborhood gatherings like an annual street art program, and much more.

At 82, Mama Fran sometimes feels worn out, but like her family and her neighborhood, there’s no keeping her down. Mama Fran and her multi-generation family of 14 live in a home in the Washington School neighborhood, a community of 500 households nestled in a 27-block radius near the heart of downtown.

Mama Fran’s home doesn’t qualify for home repair assistance. That’s meant living with badly chipped paint and a broken window that would let in cold air all winter. Despite these conditions, Mama Fran adds heart and soul to the neighborhood. When the Hislops moved in down the street, for example, Mama Fran’s family was the first to bring around a meal to welcome them.

When the city raised concerns about the condition of the house, the neighborhood responded. Over the course of a weekend volunteers turned out to paint the exterior and replace the window. By Monday, Mama Fran was in tears, overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and care. “I can’t believe it. In year’s past, this wouldn’t have happened.

Stories like this only happen in neighbor-hoods where the fabric of community is strong. For the Washington School neighborhood, the social fabric has been rebuilt through ice-cream socials, a community garden, clean-up days, a quarterly neighborhood newsletter, and safety workshops. What makes these points of interaction possible are the efforts of a network of volunteer Block Connectors who meet together, connect with neighbors, and take responsibility for the quality of life on their block.

There’s always a spark that starts the flame of good neighboring, and in the Washington School neighborhood that spark is Lisa. Lisa, a resident of 24 years was recruited to be a Neighborhood Connector. Today, she provides leadership to the Washington School Neighbors, a successful, independent, and self-sustaining micro-organization. “This job was no accident,” Lisa will tell you, “I’ve been invited into these people’s lives, and that has given me life.”