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Neighborhood watch success a mixed bag
Some areas struggle, while others thrive, but why?
Mary Miller prepares to pick up trash Saturday in front of a house in the Sherwood Forest area during a neighborhood cleanup project. - photo by Tom Reed

Two neighborhoods with the same goals were at different stages when residents gathered Saturday for separate cleanup efforts.

In Sherwood Forest off Enota Avenue, a neighborhood watch program started by residents with the help of the Gainesville Police Department led to a decline in entering autos and burglaries that occurred sporadically over the past two years.

Watch leader and burglary victim Beverly Nordholz is the spark plug, sending out e-mail updates and alerts to dozens of residents who work together to keep the surrounding tree-lined streets quiet, tidy and safe.

On Saturday, some 1,500 pounds of litter and debris was picked up from curb sides by workers with Keep Hall Beautiful after residents spent the past few days cleaning up.

While the city of Gainesville has more than 100 neighborhood watch groups, “(Sherwood) is one of the more active watches,” Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper said.

A few miles to the west, at Beechwood Boulevard, longtime resident Linda Stokes has struggled to maintain interest in a neighborhood watch in the community off Dawsonville Highway just past McEver Road. Only a handful of residents showed up Saturday for a cleanup day, after more than 40 gathered in March to talk about gang activity, loud music and property crime in the deeply transitional neighborhood.

“I’m doing everything I can to get one started, but I haven’t had a lot of success,” Stokes said. “Part of it is a language problem.”

When Stokes moved into the neighborhood 34 years ago, most of the homes were owner-occupied. Now as many as half are rentals, with families who come and go, many of them Spanish-speaking immigrants who have little interaction with longtime residents.

A few Latino neighbors pitched in on Saturday, in part prompted by bilingual Gainesville Police Crime Prevention Officer Joe Britte, who earlier canvassed the neighborhood knocking on doors and handing out Spanish-language fliers.

Stokes said the light turnout still could be a catalyst for change.

“We hope we’re going to have some people who see what’s going on today and take it seriously,” she said.

Beechwood residents seemed serious four months ago when they met with city officials to express concerns that the neighborhood’s quality of life was sliding. But the strong turnout for that meeting at the United Way didn’t translate into much participation in Saturday’s neighborhood cleanup.

Longtime Beechwood resident Donna Donatelli opined, “when it gets down to the nitty gritty, no one wants to do it.”

Turnout was also light at Sherwood’s cleanup, but much of the work had been done by residents in the week prior, with bags already out on the curb for pickup Saturday morning.

“This neighborhood has always had pride in this community, and this just goes toward showing that,” Hooper said. “Crime prevention is based on the broken window theory: One broken window is all it can take to lead to the decline of a neighborhood.”

In a modern society where neighbors aren’t as neighborly as they used to be, programs like the one thriving in Sherwood can foster new relationships and creating a better sense of community, Hooper said.

“Having a neighborhood watch is more than just getting involved if you have a crime occur,” Hooper said. “It’s getting together and getting to know each other, something I think that’s sorely lacking in society these days. People don’t know each other’s neighbors.”

Said Nordholz, “I do think people here are watching out for each other, and it’s been great to get to know new people.”

At Beechwood Boulevard, frustrated resident Linda Stokes isn’t giving up, even after being on the receiving end of cold stares from teenage hoodlums.

“I’ve been getting a lot of pretty good looks, but I won’t be intimidated,” she said.

Stokes is hopeful that her efforts to form an active, effective neighborhood watch with the help of Britte and a core group of neighbors eventually will succeed.

“We want (the neighborhood watch) to be where it’s not just one group of people but the whole neighborhood,” she said. “But it’s something you’ve got to work at.”