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|Pride stressed at West Monroe community meeting|
West Monroe Community Center officials say more local residents need to come forward to voice their opinions on what is needed to improve their neighborhoods.
The community center is now hosting town hall meetings where residents are invited to discuss ways to better all of West Monroe, but officials say without public input, there is not much they can do.
About two dozen people joined the first community meeting Tuesday night at the community center. Of those participants, only five were community members. The rest were community center officials, volunteers and police officers.
The Rev. Terrence Millican of Mt. Olive Branch Baptist Church was one the few community members who showed up for the meeting. He said he was disappointed at the low turnout, which prompted community center director Denise Calhoun to urge those in attendance to inform at least 20 others about the next meeting.
"Maybe only one of those will show up next time, but it will be one more than we had tonight," she said.
Millican said he believes community residents and leaders need to be more proactive than reactive and the best way to accomplish that is to keep lines of communication open among local leaders, law enforcement and residents.
He said people in the community react to problems when they arise, rather than try to prevent problems from ever occurring.
"If you would have had a child killed, or a major drug infestation, you would have packed this place out," Millican said. "We are reacting to problems instead of acting to prevent them. We need more community involvement."
"West Monroe has a lot to offer and if we become more proactive, we can alleviate some of the things that's happening in other cities," he added.
Millican vowed to talk to his congregation to build excitement and pride in their neighborhoods to get them more involved in community matters.
"We all know people and if we communicate and talk to people, I know we can do this, but we can't just talk it to death," Millican said.
Calhoun says residents must voice their opinion about what is needed to improve their neighborhoods if they want change to occur. That could be better sidewalks, road improvements or more consistent trash pickups.
"I know what needs to be done in my neighborhood, but it would be wrong of me to assume what needs to be done in other neighborhoods," Calhoun said.
Some of the residents said poor perception in certain West Monroe neighborhoods has caused harm to those communities because it hinders pride citizens take in their communities and hampers growth. They were quick to point out that this negative view is completely wrong.
They say that some people who have never been to these neighborhoods have negative views about them simply because they hear about someone getting arrested for drugs or robbery.
"One kid can get arrested and they may mark that neighborhood as a drug neighborhood," one resident said.
Detective Matt Graves, a member of the West Monroe Police Department's Neighborhood Stabilization Team, agreed that there is a negative perception of certain neighborhoods, especially in southern West Monroe.
"A lot of people who don't live here have a perception that when you come here, you better lock your doors, and, that is not true," Graves said. "There is not a neighborhood in West Monroe where I wouldn't walk down the street any time and feel safe."
He said compared to nearby cities, West Monroe's crime rate is much lower.
Calhoun added, "West Monroe is a beautiful, wonderful community, but it is often not recognized as this beautiful, wonderful city by its own citizens."
While several neighborhoods need a facelift, she said it would not matter how much paint is sprayed on homes, until people take pride in their community.
Community center representatives will visit with local church officials to ask for their assistance to increase excitement about revitalization efforts to get more residents involved.
"We will come up with a plan and we'll move it forward," Calhoun said. "We are not going to sit on it, but we need feedback. We can only do what the neighborhoods will allow us to do, and we need to know what the residents want."
The next meeting will be held from 6-7:30 p.m. May 22, at the West Monroe Community Center.