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It will take a village to save a generation of young people growing up in Clearwater's North Greenwood. It will take more than the city Police Department's best community policing techniques. More than a mayor who now recognizes how deep the trouble runs in that neighborhood. More than the small group of North Greenwood community representatives who gathered with the police and mayor at Clearwater City Hall on Monday to discuss what can be done.
Where are the school district administrators?
Where are the churches throughout Clearwater - the ones that have more members and money than the small, struggling churches of North Greenwood?
Where are the YWCA and the YMCA and the Salvation Army and the Juvenile Welfare Board and the Pinellas Education Foundation and countless other organizations that have the experience and wherewithal to help create a new future for North Greenwood's youth?
The much-maligned, locally produced video, Da Hood Gone Wild, was an eye-opener for officials in Clearwater City Hall. It offered an in-your-face portrayal of the drug sales, street brawling, intimidation, hopelessness and poverty that are a part of daily life for the residents of North Greenwood, but are seldom seen by people who live elsewhere in the fair city of Clearwater.
Mayor Frank Hibbard, who was not unfamiliar with some of the challenges in North Greenwood, was moved to new action by the appalling images on the video. He called Monday's meeting to come up with a set of priorities to be addressed. Among those in the meeting of about 20 people were police Chief Sid Klein and several of his officers, City Manager Bill Horne, representatives of several North Greenwood churches and organizations, School Board member Mary Brown and the mayor.
Hibbard has said repeatedly that a city is like the human body - if one part is sick and not treated, the rest of the body can become infected. The rest of Clearwater may believe that North Greenwood is a world unto itself - out of sight, out of mind - but the problems there are the sort that will spread beyond that neighborhood. In fact, they already have. And even if they had not, does Clearwater really want to be a place where children are left to cope alone with the kind of misery and mayhem that Da Hood Gone Wild shows in North Greenwood? Children there deserve the same support and protection as children elsewhere in Clearwater.
Hibbard believes that those who are willing to work to improve North Greenwood need to have a focus, so Monday he guided the group to create a priority list of five concerns: truancy, communication, coordination among groups, education and parenting. North Greenwood has a lot of needs that residents there want to discuss, but Hibbard is right about the need to have a focus.
Truancy has not been discussed much in prior meetings about North Greenwood but apparently is rampant in the neighborhood. That is wrong. The school district and its campus police as well as the city police and school resource officers are obligated to enforce school attendance laws. North Greenwood children need to be in school every day, and parents who do not send their children to school need to be held to account. Only with a good education do North Greenwood children have hope of a productive and comfortable future.
At Monday's meeting, the churches of North Greenwood agreed to work with police to provide followup when trouble is reported in the neighborhood. Police will notify the nearest church when someone is arrested or there is some other problem affecting a family, and church members will contact the affected parties to see how they can help. It is a big job. Other churches in Clearwater can help with that burden.
Organizations that could provide tutoring, mentoring and after-school programs are needed in North Greenwood. There is enormous need for parenting instruction and assistance for parents who are overwhelmed by problems of daily life.
Hibbard said that while the group of 20 that met Monday is a good core group, he wants many other people and organizations involved in the effort. He shouldn't have to draft anyone. They should be lining up to volunteer.
[Last modified December 11, 2007, 22:48:27]