Jo O’Key wanted to do something for Highland Park, and she wanted to get it done quickly.
An agent for Brock Real Estate who moved to the neighborhood from Eagle Rock about a year ago, O’Key was looking for a way to immerse herself into the community.
From that desire, Paint the Town was born—an effort to locate and repaint a Highland Park home through help of local volunteers and businesses.
O’Key's idea, only two months in the making, was brought to fruition this past weekend, as a band of volunteers went to work with sanders, brushes and rollers to restore a nearly century-old home on South Avenue 53 to its original beauty.
“It goes to show that if get a bunch of people rolling up their sleeves and applying some elbow grease, you can really get things done,” O’Key said. “I love the people of Highland Park, they came out of the woodwork to help.”
Local business owners Cathi Milligan and Julie Montenegro were crucial to bringing the effort together with such speed, O’Key said. Milligan, owner of the Glass Studio, took less than a week to create a flier calling for applicants, and Montenegro distributed them alongside the ads for her State Farm insurance office.
“Nothing was too difficult for Julie,” said O’Key, who also credited Montenegro for making sure the fliers and applications were translated into Spanish.
O’Key was able to find the perfect house with the help of Highland Park Heritage Trust member Tina Gulotta-Miller, who said she had been hoping to help restore the 1924 Victorian Vernacular at 141 S. Ave. 53 since 2006.
Gulotta-Miller has been instrumental in organizing revitalization projects in nearby Garvanza and was looking to kick-start a project in Highland Park’s historic district.
“I wanted to find something in Highland Park to show that those two districts really do care for each other,” she said.
Her efforts had long been stalled due to the faltering economy, which made business owners less willing to donate supplies and funds to the restoration effort.
O’Key, though, would not be deterred, and enlisted a slew of local sponsors, which even included competing real estate agents.
“Some of them even showed up to the house on Saturday and helped out,” Gulotta-Miller said.
Other donations included $1,000 from Ryan Ballinger, owner of the York.
O'Key said she hopes to continue the Paint the Town Project so she can to work on the numerous other applications that were received during this round.
More than bringing a house back to life, she said, Paint the Town is an effort to bring together a community that can often be divided by the neighborhood’s ongoing economic and cultural transition.
“I wanted to do something for existing community, so they could embrace and be a part of gentrification, rather than being pushed away,” she said. “And, I wanted to provide the newcomers a chance to give back to their new community.”
As for the home's owner of more than 40 year, Angelita Mora, the fresh coat of ivory and blueberry paint "was like a dream."
"I feel great, it's like a family," Mora said. "They didn't look like they were doing it because they had to; everyone was having fun."