Parolees working to restore vacant lots

Posted at 10:23 PM, Aug 29, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-29 23:39:07-04

A group of guys who have had run-ins with the law and want to see their community prosper are caring for an abandoned half-acre wooded vacant lot in North Omaha.

The forgotten forest at 33rd and Ruggles streets is being brought back to life by this group of survivors — parolees who are planting new roots for a better life.

"It was one clean up after the next cleanup after the next project," parolee Carlo Partee said. "And then pretty soon, it was just something that we were looking forward to."

They partnered with a nonprofit called Omaha Permaculture, an organization that works with the city to develop vacant land in North Omaha.

"It's creating a nice habitat for a lot of living things in the city, which is nice," said Gus Von Roenn, founder of the organization. "If you think about it, inside there are groundhogs, foxes, lots of birds — there isn't many opportunities for this in the city."

And they have some unusual allies: the Omaha Police Gang Unit and their parole officers.

"We're really trying to make sure that they understand we're supporting them in the successful conclusion of whatever they're doing," Omaha Police Lt. Ken Kanger said.

So they work to bring light to what was once a hidden, abandoned, and dark part of the neighborhood.

"We are happy to be able to put something out back out. We haven't always been the people that we're supposed to be in this lifetime," Partee said. "This could help us become the people that we need to be, and we'll do everything we can."