WARREN — Home improvements can be a thankless task. But in Warren, sprucing up your home or business can really pay off — in cash and prizes.
The town’s first ShipShape Challenge, which ends this year with the Warren Walkabout on Sunday, calls on local residents and business owners to get their property clean, colorful, eco-friendly, safe, aesthetically pleasing, mindful of neighbors and unique. The program hopes to foster community spirit through friendly competition, increase tourism and create a more business-friendly climate.
The top three project winners who entered the contest will receive a combination of cash, gift cards and other winnings totaling anywhere from $500 to $1,000. The deadline is midnight on Friday, Oct. 19, so there’s still time left for Warren residents to enter any recent improvement projects, according to Katie Dickson, who’s administering the program. She said any kind of improvement project carried out this year is eligible.
“Even folks who didn’t know about the contest and happened to have re-painted or done something to their front door or landscaped a little bit can enter,” said Ms. Dickson, noting that simple entry forms can be filled out on the program’s website (http://shipshapechallenge.org). “It’s pretty broad, so it allows for all kinds of different projects.”
The ShipShape Challenge is the brainchild of Patrick DeSocio, a member of the Warren Economic Development Board and the owner of Preppy Pig BBQ, a food truck and catering company.
“When he was in Ireland he was in a tiny little town called Dingle — very similar to Warren, along the waterfront,” said Ms. Dickson. “Everyone was up at 7 o’clock in the morning doing these home improvement projects and he was like, ‘What is going on here?’”
Mr. DeSocio learned that a program called TidyTowns had been going on in Ireland since the 1950s. It’s the country’s most well-known and popular local environmental initiative.
“All the towns compete for significant prize money to help with tourism, infrastructure and all that stuff,” said Ms. Dickson, who hopes the local initiative will serve as a model for other nearby towns. “We decided this year to try to launch it on the micro-level so it wouldn’t be town vs. town, but property owner vs. property owner.”
The Challenge was rolled out in June. The volunteer effort didn’t have much in the way of funding, so it relied mainly on social media and posters to get the word out. The program later received a $1,000 grant from the New England Grassroots Fund as well as plenty of local sponsorships and donations. The town government is also behind the project.
“Everyone got a letter in their tax bills, which was perfect,” she said.
Project improvements run the gamut.
“We have over a dozen applicants with all different kinds of projects — landscaping, historic. The one at Burr’s Hill (Park) was really cool. The Hometown Revival Project, a nonprofit, re-surfaced all the basketball courts,” said Ms. Dickson.
The contest judges are people in government, designers, architects and others. Ms. Dickson said the prizes will be impressive even though it’s the Challenge’s first year. The winner for “best storefront,” for example, takes home $500 in prizes from Discover Warren, which includes a cash prize and free membership, plus a half-page ad in The Bay Magazine. The “best restored front door” sponsored by the Warren Preservation Society can win a $500 prize plus a family membership in the Society.
For Ron Cranwell, owner of Summerwood Imports, a business that sells items from Indonesia, the contest isn’t about the money.
“Honestly, I don’t even know what the prize money is,” said Mr. Cranwell.
For him, the Challenge was a motivational tool to get some exterior work done on his Water Street storefront.
“I’d been meaning to paint my building for a year or two and then I learned about the contest. It just seemed like the right time to do it,” said Mr. Cranwell, who thinks the Challenge is a positive for the town.
Still, the paint job probably won’t be done in time for the Walkabout Sunday, although the scaffolding and other equipment will be moved before the event.
“Being a small business owner, I’m self-employed and try to get as much done as I can by myself. My goal is to get halfway across the front,” he said.
Helping a neighbor in need
The ShipShape Challenge isn’t just about making your doorway prettier, however. It also encourages community-building. Participants are urged to volunteer, do some “guerilla gardening” or — like Warren resident Kathy Sullivan did — help a neighbor out.
Her neighbor has medical issues which have made it difficult for her to maintain the upkeep of her house. So, Ms. Sullivan initiated a volunteer effort to get the home painted.
“I was doing a little gardening for her and started looking out for her … and then I thought of the competition and we entered,” she said.
The project was aided by donations of paint from Adler’s in Providence as well as the Warren Preservation Society. About 10 volunteers did most of the scraping and painting on Oct. 6 and 7, and not all of them were from Warren.
“One guy was from the fire and rescue — I don’t even know his name,” said Ms. Sullivan, said, adding that Barrington High School student Dana Sampson showed up and worked “for eight hours straight.”
Mark Wholey, a Warren sculptor and inventor of The Right Brush — a paint brush with a handle designed to fit more comfortably in your hand — also showed up.
“He stopped by and saw my husband using a Right Brush, which thrilled him. He came back with more brushes for us,” she said.
For Ms. Sullivan, the ShipShape Challenge proved to be a great example of neighbors coming together to help someone in need. She also believes the volunteer effort will serve as an important lesson for her 9-year-old son.
“For me it was just, this is what you should do to help out your neighbors.”