Niles group expanding outlook in 2013

NILES – The community revitalization group Avenue and Main has broadened its sites for 2013.

The word “expansion” was repeated many times during the course of the hour-long annual meeting at Ciminero’s Banquet Hall.

The group’s Southside Blockwatch, currently entrenched in the city’s 4th Ward, has been active for a year-and-a-half. Now, blockwatch captain Barry Steffey wants to create a new group in the city’s 2nd Ward.

“That is the goal by the end of this calendar year,” Steffey said of the plans to branch out into other neighborhoods in Niles.

Niles is divided into four wards and Steffey said the long-term goal is to create at least one blockwatch in each ward.

“I’ve been in touch with the councilmen in the other wards, because they’re the direct link to their constituents. Councilman (Edward) Stredney has told me that he’s be willing to take a prominent role in establishing it in the 2nd Ward,” he said.

Steffey is going to take the lead in helping kickstart the new blockwatch, leaving Jason Boylan to head the already established Southside Blockwatch.

“We want to use the tools that we have acquired in building relationships with this whole experience,” Steffey said. “It is just like any restaurant chain, you can’t open up five restaurants right off the bat. You have to get your systems in place, because a system is a solution. Then, you go and put your second and third units in.”

According to Boylan, the Southside Blockwatch has several new ideas on the docket for this year, including establishing a quarterly newsletter. Most of the group’s projects are currently discussed online.

“It will give the people who may not be computer savvy a chance to get caught up with things,” Boylan said.

Other projects include forming an outreach program to help neighbors with lawn care and other tasks.

“That includes overgrown properties that are vacant and other places like that,” Boylan said.

Of the utmost importance is knowing your neighbor and understanding their respective situations, Steffey explained. “If you know a neighbor whose husband has passed away – and I’ve had a couple of neighbors who have lost their spouses – let them know that we aren’t just the people that live next door,” he said.

“We choose to live where we live and that’s why it is important that we continue to pull together, stay positive and the small successes are better than the grand plans that don’t get achieved,” he said.

About 50 people attended the gathering, as the group listed some of its accomplishments throughout 2012. Carrie Kirby, organizing member, relayed a specific example of the blockwatch’s ability to call leaders into action.

“Not too long ago, there was a terrible incident that happened in front of the former Garfield school building,” Kirby said. “A person was held down and attacked and had some things that were taken from them. We addressed this at city council and, in less than one week, the entire lighting around the school was intensified and upgraded.”

In addition to responses to individual incidents, the group put together cleanup projects for the community. “There was graffiti on the old McKinley school building, as well as overgrown grass and trash being left there,” Kirby said. Southside Blockwatch took the initiative, painting the building and cleaning up the surrounding area.

The group’s monthly meetings are held at 6:30 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month at the Evening Light Apostolic Church on Fifth Street. The church’s pastors, Darrell and Michael Cline, also are members of the blockwatch.