On a scruffy and littered lot in West Baltimore, Alice Jones slowly rakes uneven ground that only weeks ago was overgrown with weeds and filled with hopelessness.
The lot at Bloomingdale Road and Rosedale Street in the Rosemont area was nearly forgotten by residents until early this year. It had not been useful to anyone other than drug users and alcoholics for several years.
But to Mrs. Jones and about a dozen or so residents of the Rosemont neighborhood who began clearing the lot this week, the small, uneven patch of land symbolizes a beginning.
"This is something that we hope will bring neighbors together. It's a start at that, at least," says Mrs. Jones, who lives a block from the lot in the 3000 block of Westwood Ave. and has been a resident of the Rosemont community for 26 years.
"I want to see this become a beautiful lot. I don't want it to be a drug haven anymore. And if I don't live to see it, maybe my grandchildren can."
The idea is to clear and level the 135-by-60-foot lot, then section it off into plots on which residents can grow flowers and vegetables. Residents hatched the plan earlier this year and hope to finish the project by August.
A mural that depicts community and city leaders will be painted on a 75-foot wall behind the lot by artist Frank Stockton, a former resident of Rosemont.
"Right now, it's not as bad as it used to be, but it's not all that it could be either," says Martha Wilkes, who has lived in Rosemont for more than 30 years. "This will be nice when we're finished."
The lot is next to Tiffany Square, a small triangular piece of land named for Tiffany Smith, 6, who was killed by a stray bullet as she played on the sidewalk near her home last July. In that incident, two gunmen squared off at the opposite ends of a block and fired handguns at each other.
The lot, Tiffany Square, where Tiffany lived and where the shooting occurred are all within a block and a half of each other.
Tiffany's death banded many of the residents of the neighborhood together to fight against the crime that permeates the area.
While a few residents clear the lot, several young men who have been seen dealing drugs in the area are watching. None offers to help, but residents hope that will change.
Although the lot beautification project is being done with Tiffany in mind, there are other reasons for it.
"We'd like to show the city that this community is working," says Bernadette Devone, president of the Rosemont Community Task Force. "All of these people are working to make this nice. We want to bring the guys off the corner and involve them in this."
Funds for the project were provided by a $2,600 grant from the Baltimore Community Foundation, which offers grants to existing or new and emerging community organizations that strive to improve their areas with little if any money. The grant will pay for a fence, the mural and the artist's fee.
While Sam Green, who has lived in Rosemont for 35 years, works on the lot, he has dreams of returning the community to its former stature. "It was a nice neighborhood once. It still is, but it can be better," he says.
Alice Jones has dreams, too. "I hope this [project] brings residents together," she says. "I want to see the drug addicts out of the community and I want to see the older people be able to come out and sit on their porches again. Those are some of the things I'd like to see. That's all."