Drenched in sweat, Richard Creek heaved another shovel full of dirt from the pile and carefully spread it in front of the Meade Village Community Center.
He was celebrating his birthday Saturday sweltering in the heat to fill in the beaten-down lawn. With some grass seed and a fence to keep people from running across the yard, Creek hoped to create a nice green entrance to the dilapidated community center.
A half-dozen Meade residents labored next to Creek under the noonsun and teased him about his age. Creek bragged that he got up at 6:30 that morning to decorate his own yard with flowers. He told everybody about his birthday, but held back when asked his age.
"Nope, I'm not gonna tell you that," he said, when a neighbor made a joke. "Idon't tell anybody how old I am."
While Creek and a few others spread soil next to the sidewalk, Donna Jones was frosting cupcakes in air-conditioned comfort. She stood inside the community center kitchen and greeted her old neighbors.
"It's so nice to be back," said Jones, who has moved to North Carolina, but came back to Meade Villageto help with the community cleanup.
The county Housing Authority sponsored the event and collected donations from area businesses to improve the housing project's appearance. But the blistering heat keptmany residents indoors.
As she picked up litter and broken branches, Theresa Wilkerson shook her head about the apparent apathy of some of her neighbors. She said "it would be a miracle" if the yards stayed clean for more than a day.
"We've been doing this for years, but don't too many people get involved," she said. "To me, I like to see a nice, clean, quiet community. We can have it if we try."
A couple dozen residents in the 200-unit community, along with county housing workers, did try Saturday. They picked up litter from the sidewalks, swept the playground and planted a lawn.
Children cleaned up the sand-box and swept the sidewalk next to a utilities box spray-painted with an obscene slogan.
The housing authority has considered removing graffiti, but needs a special permit to do so, said John Wenzel, maintenance supervisor.
Officer Kevin Tribull, one of two county police officers who routinely patrol the public housing development, said he was impressed with the effort.
He contrasted the community's appearance with last summer, when he noticed overflowing trashcans and litter strewn across the sidewalks. Drug dealers had taken over empty units, and many residents were afraid to leave their apartments then, he said.
"When I worked out here last summer, it wouldliterally depress me," Tribull said.
A few outsiders joined in the cleanup, including members of the Black Political Forum, a coalition of community activists. Lewis Bracy, who was just named chairman ofthe forum, spent three hours shoveling soil and passing out anti-drug literature to residents.
"I think this is good," he said, wipinghis forehead. "They just need to get some more people involved."
Down the street, an 18-year-old was lounging in a chair under a shadytree. He said he wasn't going to join the effort because by the nextday, everything would look the same.
"It always looks like this,"he said, pointing to some candy-bar wrappers and pieces of glass strewn in front of his home.
But not if people like Wilkerson and Glenndale Johnson, who oversees Meade Village, have their way.
Johnson, who also is the housing authority's occupancy supervisor, didn't let the near-100 degree temperatures or the low turnout stand in her way. And she made the cleanup a success.