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Local

NIU, DeKalb programs collaborate at one-day event

Joe Riguad helps his 4-year-old daughter, Iliana, push a mower Saturday. Five Northern Illinois University students helped Rigaud with his yard work as part of NIU Cares Day, in collaboration with the citywide NICE program. Elena Grimm – egrimm@daily-chronicle.com
Joe Riguad helps his 4-year-old daughter, Iliana, push a mower Saturday. Five Northern Illinois University students helped Rigaud with his yard work as part of NIU Cares Day, in collaboration with the citywide NICE program. Elena Grimm – egrimm@daily-chronicle.com

DeKALB – Joe Rigaud knows that it takes effort to maintain a home.

But the job got a little easier when he was approached by city officials, who offered to lend a helping hand – and a few college students – for the day.

The City of DeKalb kicked off its newest property maintenance program Saturday in collaboration with NIU Cares Day, a day where more than 1,500 Northern Illinois University students performed volunteer work in the community. Called Neighborhood Improvement Coordination Effort, or NICE, the city program seeks to address property maintenance issues by inviting homeowners to utilize rehab programs already offered by the city.

Riguad cleared toys and leaves from his yard Saturday with his 4-year-old daughter, Iliana, as five members of NIU's Pi Sigma Epsilon planted flowers and raked. Having lived in DeKalb for five years, he said he was surprised when he was approached by city officials about the program.

"Having someone else do my yard, I feel like that's cheating," was his first thought, he said. "But I don't know any other places I've lived that do something like this. It really shows the value the city puts on their city."

Student volunteer Cristy Sagun found some value, too.

"My parents are not going to believe me when I tell them what I'm doing," she said as she raked leaves. Gardening is not Sagun's forte, and it would surprise her green-thumb parents to know she volunteered her time to do just that.

About 50 NIU student volunteers and 25 City of DeKalb employee volunteers were assigned to NICE job sites, helping 19 households clean their yards and alleyways. NICE is undergoing a pilot phase in a defined area in the 4th Ward, but city officials hope the program will grow from there.

Lowe’s store in DeKalb passed out work gloves, tools, garbage and lawn refuse bags for the event. In addition, Waste Management donated Dumpsters. By 11 a.m., four containers were full and four more were being delivered, DeKalb Acting Community Services Planner Jamie Smirz said.

Besides the 50 or so students doing neighborhood cleanup, more than 1,500 students from 90 clubs and organizations volunteered Saturday. They spread mulch at area parks, played with animals at TAILS Humane Society and shelved books at libraries.

Angie Dreessen, who heads the campus Student Involvement and Leadership Development department, floated around the job sites to make the sure the massive volunteer day went off without a hitch.

"I hope they get some intrinsic value of helping out in the community," she said. "It'd be nice if others thought about giving back throughout the year. That would be a success."

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