NICE group tackles tough local issues Formed to unite Edgewood people

October 04, 1992|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Staff Writer

If community activists in Edgewood have learned one thing about fighting crime, drug abuse and community neglect, it is that there is power in numbers.

So with residents of every corner of Edgewood in mind, they created Neighbors Involved in the Community of Edgewood, or NICE, an umbrella organization that intends to oversee the work of neighborhood groups and channel their efforts into common goals.

"We want to empower residents to take control of their community, but we can only do it as a unified force," says Anita Sills-Jones, spokeswoman for NICE, which has begun tackling problems ranging from street-corner drug sales to latchkey children.

NICE grew out of the Maryland Project, a Harford County and state-funded program begun in early 1991 to help communities identify social problems and develop strategies to solve them. The three-year project is sponsored by the Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission and the Harford County Drug/Alcohol Impact Program.

After more than a year of analyzing needs and talking strategy, Edgewood activists formed NICE over the summer. And last weekend they paraded their creation before the public -- in the form of a 4 1/2 -mile walk through the streets of Edgewood.

With many wearing black and gold T-shirts emblazoned with "Neighbors Involved in the Community of Edgewood," 225 walkers set out from Edgewood High School Sunday morning pushing strollers, carrying balloons and, in the case of the local Cub Scout pack, toting the American flag. Organizers hoped the walk would not only publicize NICE, but also attract concerned residents to its cause.

"A lot of people just go to work, go home and go inside their houses. We're trying to bring back the neighborhood feeling of working together as one," said Ms. Sills-Jones.

The march wound through more than a half-dozen Edgewood neighborhoods, past single-family homes with well-manicured lawns as well as more densely populated areas where drug arrests have become commonplace. Among the walkers was Ree Weathers, manager of Edgewater Village Apartments, near U.S. 40, where a high percentage of calls to police originate.

"I want people to realize I'm not just sitting behind a desk," said the longtime Edgewood resident who said she finds drug paraphernalia in the bushes around the complex "every other day."

Ms. Weathers' son Eddie, a ninth-grader at Joppatowne High School,finished the walk in less than two hours with a couple of friends, but his mother said the turnout from apartment residents was minimal.

Walking with the Edgewood residents were County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, a half-dozen County Council members and state Del. Mary Louise Preis, D-34th.

"For many years, Edgewood has had this image of a bad community," said Mrs. Preis, whose legislative district includes Edgewood. "The problem is that perception becomes reality. We need to change that perception, but you have to take hold of your community to do it."

NICE organizers say that taking hold means not only getting more police protection, but also treating the more basic sources of neighborhood deterioration and crime -- high unemployment, idle teens with no place to congregate, lack of parental supervision and lack of communication among residents.

"A lot of problems can be solved by better communication with police," said Cpl. Mike Wheeler of the Maryland State Police, which has assigned two full-time troopers to the Edgewood area since the Maryland Project began.

Both the state police and the Harford County Sheriff's Office have spent time advising various Edgewood neighborhood groups on crime-prevention techniques and encouraging their cooperation in reporting suspicious activity.

But NICE's goals go beyond reporting crime, says Dan Riley, the group's vice president who marched Sunday along with his daughter Anna, 13. "We don't want to be just a reactive organization."

The ideal crime prevention, he said, is to influence young people early in life.

"Young people are the key to our future. We can never have enough facilities for kids," he says, noting that one of NICE's immediate goals is to improve the Edgewood Multi-Purpose Youth Center on Cedar Drive.

Joyce Campbell, who has lived in Willoughby Woods six years, came out for the walk with her three daughters, Shanika, 12, Patrice, 10, and 17-month-old Danielle, who traveled via baby stroller. She, too, stressed the need for more community programs for children, particularly for latchkey kids who go home from school to an empty house.

"It used to be the whole community revolved around school and church," she said. "That's how it should be. But now you go to PTA and there might be only 50 parents there, and yet there are hundreds of students in the school."

Indeed, says NICE President Van Taylor, parental involvement is high on the list of NICE priorities.

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