CLEARWATER — For more than six months, a group of pastors and community leaders have been meeting to identify ways to help the troubled North Greenwood community.
On Wednesday, the organization forged a strategy.
The group, which also includes Clearwater's police chief, mayor and city manager, plans to target three major initiatives:
• Creating a faith-based neighborhood watch program.
• Planning and hosting a youth summit.
• Developing a network to raise awareness about positive programs in the community.
"We made a lot of progress today," Mayor Frank Hibbard said after Wednesday's meeting. "It's taken some time, but we clarified some of the things in our control. We can now focus on our strengths that we can mold to improve the community."
Hibbard convened the group last fall after he saw Da Hood Gone Wild, a DVD that showed explicit footage of fighting and drug use in North Greenwood. His goal was to involve church pastors and other community leaders in helping to solve the area's problems. The first meeting was in November.
"There was great dialogue and open and honest comments were brought forward," said Isay Gulley, president of Clearwater Neighborhood Housing Services, who has attended the meetings. "It points back to the community itself being responsible for taking the lead and addressing its own internal needs."
The neighborhood watch program is the idea of police Chief Sid Klein, who is asking North Greenwood churches and their members to take a more active role in what was happening in the community.
Under his plan, each church would be assigned a geographical area. If a young person in the area is arrested or suspected of drug activity, the police would pass the name to the church.
A church member would then contact a parent or guardian to see if something can be done to keep the young person out of the criminal justice system, Klein said.
Some North Greenwood pastors have expressed skepticism about the neighborhood watch, and only four pastors attended an April 5 training session with the police. But on Wednesday, those gathered at the meeting decided to move forward with the program and set an example.
"We will take just one church to get it started," Klein said. "We just want to get it started."
The Rev. William Sherman, pastor of Mount Carmel Baptist Church, reinforced the importance of attending the spiritual side of today's youth.
"Who's going to save the children for tomorrow?" Sherman asked. "That's where our hearts should be."
The youth summit will be planned by the community's teens. No date has yet been set.
Group members also agreed Wednesday that there are many good programs in the North Greenwood area that aren't well attended because residents don't know they exist.
Their plan is to create a network to spread the word where residents can find and participate in those programs.
Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or email@example.com.