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Party unites neighborhood

September 14, 1997

By DON AINES

Staff Writer, Martinsburg

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A group of about 20 children with a few parents mixed in danced to booming rap music while a short distance away, a man chased a teenager and doused him with a cup of water.

Up and down Centre Street about 100 people, most of them children, were enjoying a day out and a bite to eat with their neighbors Sunday at the Drug Awareness and Prevention Block Party.

"I'm trying so hard to fight this drug business and show kids we can get together and do something positive," said Alene Cole, 124 N. Centre St. One of the organizers of the block party, she estimated more than 200 people had drifted in and out of the four-hour party.

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"Two years ago we had a lot of problems. We've still got that name, but we haven't got all those problems," the retired school teacher said. Several of the houses are run down, but several of those attending the event agreed that things are looking up in the neighborhood.

"This isn't a bad street. It was really good for the kids. Everybody can be friends and not enemies," said resident Tina Rodis. She said area businesses helped with the party by donating food, drinks, ice and other goods.

"This was a drug problem area several years ago," according to City Councilman Oden Barrett, who owns the R&O Market on Centre Street. The community held a block party two years ago and Barrett said that began to turn people's attitudes around.

"When people want to get involved in their community to help, something good is happening," said Barrett, a former police officer. One of those positive attitudes was a willingness by some residents to work with police.

Kiana Bullett, 2, had a smiling heart painted on one cheek and carried a helium balloon as she wandered about the street. Mother Eugenia Bullett said they live a few streets away and agreed that the crime problem was improving.

"This is very good for the kids and you get to see who is around your neighborhood," she added.

Dessie Rodis and her daughter Amber were from outside the neighborhood. Rodis is her former daughter-in-law and the two stay in touch. "She invited us over. I think it's nice, don't you?" she asked.

Bob Stull leaned against a fence post smoking a cigarette. As he watched the children dancing, he said he is from Shenandoah Junction and was visiting a friend. "I knew they were having a party, so I just planned on coming," he said.

"If this stuff could happen every day, it'd be great. I could bring my son out here and he could have fun," remarked Charles Brown, 121 N. Centre St. He said people would still be friendly the next day, but it wouldn't be quite the same.

"Black and white people ... just having fun," he said as the children cavorted in the street and their parents broke into small conversational groups.

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