If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself. Four residents of the Lexington Terrace public housing development are out to prove that the popular saying is correct.
For the last six weeks, Barbara McKinney, a tenant and outspoken community leader, has worked with her two sisters and another friend to upgrade their West Baltimore housing complex.
Frustrated that the city and many of their neighbors didn't seem interested in refining the buildings at Lexington Terrace, they formed their own cleanup crew.
Starting each morning at 8:30, the four women cleaned and painted an 11-story stairwell that had been filled with graffiti and dirt. Now two coats of fresh tan paint and stenciled flowers adorn its walls.
They scrubbed and hosed down hallway floors and placed a new burgundy finish on the elevator doors. Outside their high-rise, rTC No. 755, they reclaimed a wall that had been covered with chipped blue paint. Now it's a smooth red.
The women even filled a hallway with potted plants in an attempt to brighten the place.
"We have to make the best of where we live," said Ms. McKinney, 39, who bristles if you refer to the housing development as a "project," a term she sees as pejorative. "We don't want to accept things the way they are. We can make a difference," she said.
Ms. McKinney, a tenant representative to the City Housing Authority, got the authority to provide gallons of paint as well as tools. The agency even provided two painting instructors.
The women's work plans for the rest of the summer include painting all 110 apartment doors in No. 755 and getting baseball diamond and hopscotch lines drawn in the lot at Lexington Terrace Elementary School across the street.
They hope their enthusiasm will spread to other residents of the development's five high-rises.
"It's work, but it's also fun and rewarding," said Joann Snead, 34, one of Ms. McKinney's sisters.
Tammy Snead, 31, agreed. "It shows young kids they do have parents willing to make it better for them," she said.
The fourth member is Vernita Smith, 31.
On Tuesday afternoon, the women were painting the sliding board, swing set and other timeworn equipment at the school playground. Children at the school's recreation center left their activities to help pick weeds from around their newly painted play site.
"It's nice to see this because a lot of people don't care," said Shawnetta Moore, 14, who has lived at Lexington Terrace since she was 7. "They've given us a better environment."
The housing authority announced this week that it is sponsoring a cleanup competition in the development, but Ms. McKinney says her efforts, which began in May, are more intensive and have a wider scope.
She thinks that youngsters will respect their home more if it is clean, and perhaps that such respect will lead to other changes in a high-rise community where drug dealing and gunfire are common.
"The easy way out is to pack up and move, but I can't," Ms. McKinney said. "If you give up, you die."