In 43 years in Santa Ana's Artesia-Pilar neighborhood, Hope Martinez has seen a lot of changes. Most of them, she said, have not been very good.
But in recent years, residents of the mostly Latino area have found help.
When Martinez needed a loan to fix up her house, she got one. When she needed to borrow tools or the services of a handyman, she got them for free.
For Martinez and her neighbors, assistance is found practically in their back yard: inside a cozy house-turned-office that is home to the Santa Ana Neighborhood Housing Services, a nonprofit organization that aims to revitalize inner-city neighborhoods.
So on Saturday, Martinez and her neighbors gathered for a street festival that the group sponsored in front of its office on West 7th Street. For Martinez, the party, which was billed as "a neighborhood celebration," was a family affair.
"The cook is my grandson. That's Russell. Big Russell. And that's my daughter, Faith," Martinez said. Faith brought her four children, and daughter-in-law Vicky had her three kids tagging along.
"It's a nice opportunity for the neighbors to get together," said Vicky Martinez.
Neighborhoods are what the Santa Ana Neighborhood Housing Services is all about, explained its executive director, Doug Bystry.
"Our ultimate goal is to make the neighborhood a better place to live," Bystry said.
The group, established in Santa Ana in 1979, offers homeowners low-interest loans, free paint and other services to the more 800 homes in the area bounded by Bristol Street, Washington Avenue, English Street and 1st Street. The name comes from Artesia Street and the Our Lady of Pilar Church, which is a focus of the neighborhood.
There are about 200 such groups in the country, and Orange County has two of them. The second Neighborhood Housing Services is in another older and also somewhat run-down neighborhood in La Habra.
Financed by federal Community Development Block Grant money and donations from private industries, Santa Ana Neighborhood Housing Services works with a $68,000 annual budget to help lower-income families, Bystry said.
Marie Calvillo, for example, has painted her fence and dumped some junk through a special dumpster service, thanks to the group.
On Saturday, Calvillo's husband, Gilbert, looked over some tools the group loans to residents and considered borrowing an edger.
Meanwhile, one of their two sons, Tony, beamed as he showed off the honorable mention he won for his entry in the contest "I Love My Neighborhood Because. . . ." The 10-year-old had pasted a magazine drawing of a house featuring "most common major home improvements."
"I chose that one because it shows where they remodeled and replaced things," he explained.
More than half of the 100 people munching on barbecued hot dogs and Mexican beans with chorizo were children.
Bystry and others involved in the program said they were disappointed that more adults didn't come to the party, which featured educational displays and offers of free smoke detectors for low-income families, the handicapped and the elderly.
But it is hoped that the children will carry the message to their parents by bringing them a collection of brochures distributed Saturday, Marie Calvillo said.
Hope Martinez said: "This is a good program. They're helping people to better their homes."