The Nicest Place in Florida: Pine Hills

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Discovering New Community"

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A community welcomes all, even an unlikely transplant worried she won’t fit in.

One thing Marianne Fasolo likes about Pine Hills, Florida: People have too much to worry about to be bothered by the color of your skin.

“It’s not about race, it’s more economic,” she says. “Everybody’s on the same playing field.”

Fasolo, 58, wasn’t sure that’s how it would be when she moved in last winter. Pine Hills, near Orlando, is a working-class city of 90,000 where two thirds of its residents are Black, many from the Dominican Republic; the rest is a mix of Latinos, Asians and Caucasians. Fasolo landed there for its affordable housing and because she loves diversity and global culture, but she wasn’t sure how she’d be received as a White person.

“I didn’t know anybody here. I was starting over, by myself,” she says. “I wondered, what kind of response am I going to get? I’m just some White lady. People look at you and think they know you.”

But on the first day in her new home, Fasolo’s worries melted away.

“The day I moved in, oh my goodness! It was, ‘welcome to the neighborhood!’” she says. “People were just amazing.”

Then COVID-19 came and everything changed. Get-to-know-you coffee and lunch dates dropped off the calendar. Neighbors retreated indoors, including Fasolo, who has health issues that compromise her immunity.

“I haven’t left my house in 16 weeks,” she says. “I hazmat myself up to take my trash out.”

But that’s when her new community came to the rescue.

“My neighbors noticed that I was not coming out of the house,” so people started to check in, she says. Some came by with food. Another took her for a drive. 

“I love my neighbors,” says Fasolo. “Anything I need; we all have each other’s phone numbers.”

There’s no shortage of support in the Pine Hills area for those confronted with the coronavirus and the economic hardships it’s causing. Churches, charities and nonprofits have stepped up in the Central Florida region, including many providing food pantries and home repairs.

“Some people are living in their cars, some people are struggling right now, some have lost their jobs,” said one local pastor as his church handed out free meals for the 25th straight day.

For Fasolo, the crisis has forced her to set aside one of her own favorite activities: going door-to-door with her fellow Jehovah’s Witnesses to share her faith. She now has to do her spiritual labors from behind a keyboard, sending out emails that start with, “Knock knock!” It’s become a running joke at the Kingdom Hall, she says. “We say, ‘We knocked on your doors because we love you,’” says Fasolo. “Now we don’t knock on your doors because we love you.’”

While Fasolo doesn’t claim to understand her Black neighbors’ experience with racism, she hopes the George Floyd protests help the rest of the nation understand just how hard it is to be a minority in America. If everybody treated their neighbors the way her Pine Hills neighbors treat her, she says, the world would be a better place.

“This is what the Bible teaches: God created all men equal,” says Fasolo. “Nobody is better than anybody else.”

The Nomination

In a time of racial divide where all you see and hear on news feeds is about hatred and racial discrimination in one form or another, I have to say that I feel truly blessed with my wonderful caring giving loving generous and very helpful neighbors! On December 30, 2019 I bought my home in the Rosemont Pinehills Subdivision of Northwest Orlando Florida 32808. I was a bit hesitant being that I am Caucasian and the neighborhood is racially mixed with African Americans and Hispanics and there is a very high crime rate here. I am an older single white female in poor health living alone. I wasn’t sure how I would be received. Would they keep their distance from me because I’m white? Would they assume that I’m a racist because I’m Caucasian? But I can tell you that from the very first day, all of my fears subsided. From the day I began moving my things into my new home, one by one my neighbors all came out of their homes to welcome me to the neighborhood and we all exchanged phone numbers. I confided in them that my health wasn’t good but I could still manage to cut the grass and keep my yard work up. And then in March Covid19 pandemic happened which caused me to become homebound. When my neighbors noticed that I hadn’t come outside to get my mail or take the trash out in a while they called to check on me. Two neighbors Olivia and Acela brought me food. Another neighbor Herman came to cut my yard and weed my garden. And other neighbors like Andrea and Joan just called me to let me know they were thinking about me. I love my neighbors! They are the true loving examples Jesus Christ taught us to follow “to love your neighbor as you love yourself”.

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