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Volunteers sought for neighborhoods program

July 08, 1998|By LISA GRAYBEAL

There are problems in Hagerstown's neighborhoods and money to help solve them.

All that's needed now are residents who will come forward and work together to come up with the solutions and implement them.

That's the idea behind the Neighborhoods First program, presented to a group of nearly 30 residents at the Martin Luther King Jr. Center on North Avenue on Tuesday night.

"The program is designed to let residents and the neighborhood determine what's needed and how it's going to be achieved," said Larry Bayer, chairman of the Neighborhoods First committee.

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Neighborhoods First would work by establishing associations in each census area in the city.

Each association would receive $5,000 from the city to be used by members to fund neighborhood improvement programs, like park improvements, literacy classes and block parties, Bayer said.

This year, the city set aside $57,000 for the program, he said.

But it's up to the residents to come up with realistic ideas and solutions within the budget to improve their neighborhoods.

"It doesn't mean coming to the city with a wish list," Bayer told the group.

Local officials are more likely to listen to requests made by a large neighborhood group than by one resident, said John Nelson, a program volunteer.

Some residents were supportive of the program and asked volunteers when they could get started.

Others challenged the idea of setting up one more program and questioned how Neighborhoods First could help with problems like lack of employment for young black males and drug dealing.

"It's nice to start a group...But if the city of Hagerstown does not start opening up the job market to young black men, it'll do no good," said Lawrence H. Freeman.

If finding jobs is the problem, then it's up to the residents who join Neighborhoods First to come up with ways to solve it, Bayer said.

"What gets done is up to the imagination and the energy levels of the residents," Bayer said.

The Neighborhoods First concept stemmed from a desire to improve the city's home ownership rate of roughly 40 percent, according to program committee members.

The program grew out of a 1996 survey done by Hagerstown city officials in which nearly 1,000 people replied that they would be willing to join a group to help improve their neighborhoods.

Neighborhood First associations would give residents a chance to get to know each other, along with setting up practices in their neighborhoods, such as watching over homes when neighbors are on vacation or looking out for children walking to the bus stop, program volunteers said.

They also could reinforce city ordinances, such as the one barring trash from being set out before 4 p.m. on pickup day.

The associations could distribute information packages and welcome new residents, volunteers said.

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