Within the greater Merrill Park Neighborhood is a close-knit community called Hilltopper. There lives Ms. Valerie Langston, a Near West Side resident for almost 25 years. Ms. Langston decided to move to Hilltopper in 1996 because the Near West Side community was sponsoring first time homeowner buyerships in the area.
Since moving to Hilltopper, Ms. Langston has seen many positive changes occur in the neighborhood, with one being the involved community block watch programs. In the late 1990s, Hilltopper was involved with joint neighborhood watch programs with The Valley Piggsville and the larger Merrill Park, but in the early 2000s the community was able to start their own, separate program.
Neighbors are registered with MPD and the alderman station and are able to get together to make the neighborhood a better place. Throughout the years, the neighborhood watch program has sponsored block clean-up events and walked the community with MPD, Aldermans, and even Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.
In the last five years alone, Ms. Langston explained she has gotten to know the young children on her block more, as well as their parents. She also mentioned a few positive events Near West Side Partners has helped sponsor, including the upkeep of local parks and gardens and “Brats For Your Thoughts,” an opportunity for residents to answer questionnaires about what they would like to see in their community while enjoying a complimentary neighborhood picnic.
Like every conversation these days, I was sure to ask Ms. Langston about how COVID-19 has impacted her and the Hilltopper community. She replied that the virus has had a “very big impact” and that “it’s not a happy thing.” With children out of school for the summer but no summer programs running, some parents have had to give up their jobs in order to take care of their families.
However, this sacrifice comes with a price. She noted that some families are not able to afford Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as face masks and gloves, and she knows of two different homes that have faced eviction since the pandemic began.
For information on eviction prevention resources for tenants click here and for landlords click here.
However, despite the virus, Ms. Langston noted that the community is still friendly and people have been trying to engage with each other in a social-distanced manner. For example, she said she often sees neighbors sitting out on their porches in the evening who wave to other neighbors passing by. She also mentioned that since mid-March, when the pandemic shutdown began, she has noticed that properties in the area have appeared a little more well kept.
Individually, Ms. Langston has been trying to make a positive difference for her neighbors. She explained she has been trying to stay connected with her community and assist them where she can, including asking them what she can do to help, giving them phone numbers for resources, and updating them with the latest news with the virus. She concluded with, “that’s about all we can do right now.”
I also asked Ms. Langston if the recent activities of civil unrest have impacted the neighborhood at all. To hear her response, click the audio link below:
Regarding the future of the Hilltopper community and the Merrill Park Neighborhood as a whole, Ms. Langston told me she “always tries to be optimistic.” She explained that she loves the community atmosphere, but in general, wants people to remember to sympathize with others and understand others’ needs, instead of just their own. This action will help grow communal support for the neighborhood and facilitate community organizations, like Near West Side Partners.
Special thanks Ms. Valerie Langston for taking the time to speak with me about the Hilltopper community.