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Community dishes up alternative to violence

August 12, 2000

Community dishes up alternative to violence



By DON WORTHINGTON / Staff Writer


The sounds of children running and laughing were sweet music to the ears of Michelle Johnson.

"I can let him go and I'm not worried. It feels real good," she said as she cradled her 3-year-old son, Josiah.

Johnson was in Hagerstown on Saturday to visit her mother, Mercedes Pantophlet. They spent most of the afternoon amid the good times of a National Night Out celebration sponsored by Bethel Gardens.

Streets in the Bethel Gardens area were closed to traffic. The aroma of grilling hamburgers and hot dogs filled the air. There was even blue cotton candy, although server Roger Jones was getting more on his arms than he was collecting into a cone.

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"I'm just a bit sticky," said Jones with a grin.

Bethel Gardens manager Cathy S. Dobson said the purpose of the afternoon was to show the neighbors there's an alternative to violence, and to send a message to those who deal drugs: Don't do it here.

This is the fifth year Bethel Gardens has sponsored the National Night Out. It is the 17th year the National Association of Town Watch has held the nationwide community crime prevention program.

Dobson said the program has seemed to have a healthy impact on the neighborhood until recently.

"It was peacefully quiet; now, they're out robbin' people," she said.

Jay Kelson, a minister with Gateway Ministries and former security guard in the neighborhood, said, "Faces change every day."

Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith said his street crime unit patrols the neighborhood daily. Smith said the police are doing things residents "can and can't see" to address the problem.

He said part of the problem is "there is a fresh wave of New York drug dealers. That's what the residents are reacting to."

Dobson estimated about 350 people attended the event, which included activities ranging from a performance by the Gateway Ministries Choir to a neighborhood walk.

"It shows togetherness," Kelson said of the activities. "It shows if we work as a community, nothing can't be accomplished."

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