For residents of the Silverwood neighborhood, reputation is all in a name.
Giovanna Dibenedetto has been involved with the community since she moved to Silverwood, a new neighborhood within the Southeast Urbana Neighborhood. Three years ago she was faced with the harsh reality of how people in the Urbana area view Silverwood.
“When I first moved in here one of my neighbors said to me, ‘Welcome to the ghetto, where nobody cares’,” Dibenedetto said. “It was devastating. It showed me how people even within the lower income part of the neighborhood felt.”
According to 2013 census information, 4,477 total people live in the Southern Urbana neighborhood, and in 2013 it had a median income of
$53,059. Additionally, 56.7 percent of residents hold a job in the labor force.
“The community is very diverse across the board,” Dibenedetto said. “Economically we have what you would consider upper or middle class, down to people that are barely surviving.”
And Silverwood has had extensive crime issues throughout the years.
In the past 6 months, there have been 56 violent crimes, most of which were assault and domestic violence-related offenses. Urbana police reports also show a plethora of break-ins and domestic violence.
“The community is divided between the lower-income and middle-class houses,” Dibenedetto said. “It’s been a big issue trying to cross that line. There is a crime issue in the lower part, and it has been and it’s going to be. However, it can and will be solved.”
Another issue currently facing residents of Silverwood is the rent burden on low-income families. This is when a household spends more than 30 percent of their income on rent. In the Southeast Urbana area, 69 percent of households are considered rent-burdened.
“We have to do more to reduce the rent burden on low-income families in Champaign County, and we’ll be working with the Housing Authority of Champaign County, Township officials, and social service providers to address this issue,” said Urbana Mayor Dianne Marlin.
While Dibenedetto acknowledges that violence is an issue, she says that efforts have been made in the community to decrease violence in all forms, including a new name change.
“It started out as a Halloween costume drive for families in need,” Dibenedetto said. “We were out with this event so much we decided that saying Silver-Vawter sounded horrible. People automatically thought of gun violence. They would say ‘Oh I know that place, that’s the ghetto,’ which is terrible. It just makes people feel like dirt.”
“We came up with this idea to rename the neighborhood, and we called it ‘Rename the Hood.’ Silverwood came out of all of those entries, and a committee ended up deciding on that one,” Dibenedetto said.
Dibenedetto noted that although the name change happened a year ago, it just was not sticking because it had yet to become official.
However, with the help of Marlin, the neighborhood was able to more firmly stake their name.
“We reached out to Dianne, and she said she would see what she could do,” Dibenedetto said. “She was able to order the signs that are now up, and I got to be a part of that design process. Dianne has been very instrumental in helping us and supporting us in everything we’ve done in the past three years. We would not have made progress in the past three years without her. She’s usually at every event, and that kind of support is what’s also helping.”
Marlin says that her large involvement in Silverwood is to make sure the residents know that she cares and that she wants to help.
“One of the most important things I can do as Mayor is to show up and support the residents’ efforts,” Marlin said. “It’s often been said that people don’t care what you say until they know that you care, and we need to demonstrate that caring. We also know that the city cannot change things alone. It is a partnership with community members.”
Dibenedetto said about the impact of the renaming, “It really gives a sense of pride, and a sense of ownership. People start seeing the signs and are so excited about it. They were smiling. They were proud. It was that fast that you could see a difference.”
“Instead of walking to the hood where nobody cares, or to the ghetto where nobody cares about us, it’s ‘Welcome to Silverwood, where we are loved and cared about. Where we matter.’ That’s the biggest one. The people who are struggling in lower-income brackets, you feel like you don’t matter.”
The outreach in the Silverwood community continues.
Dedicated community members in Silverwood hold a costume drive each year for families who cannot provide their own. Dibenedetto says she has found a lot of success in the program.
“The costume drive went well, and in the end we did last minute push and we were able to take care of not only the children in the neighborhood but also over at Courage Connections,” Dibenedetto said.
Residents and Marlin are playing a part to make Silverwood a safe and thriving place to live.
“We continue efforts to reduce crime, improve property management and maintenance, support residents’ efforts to create a sense of place, build connections among neighbors, and connect residents to programs and services that can help them,” Marlin said.
Silverwood has a way to go, both with crime rates, and overall community in the neighborhood. However, Dibenedetto believes that change is coming, and a large part of that is due to the renaming. “It’s really surprising what one little sign can do,” Dibenedetto said.