Improving one neighborhood at a time

– Home may be where the heart is, but home does not stop at the
edge of the front lawn or backyard fence. Sometimes, it includes a
broken streetlight two houses down, or graffiti on a nearby sign or
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – Home may be where the heart is, but home does not stop at the edge of the front lawn or backyard fence. Sometimes, it includes a broken streetlight two houses down, or graffiti on a nearby sign or wall.

Just about any neighborhood in town could use some help with improving, or even just maintaining, its appearance or the camaraderie between people living there. And residents of any neighborhood can learn how to build a better community this month during a course offered by the city, police department, and South County Housing on three Wednesdays this month.

“The whole purpose is for us to help the community expand its empowerment – what we want is the community to be more comfortable acting as eyes and ears … and accessing city services,” said Rachel Muñoz, a community services officer with the Gilroy Police Department. “Our goal is to provide information to encourage people to get involved, and if they can share with us, we can help them out with the resources to improve quality of life.”

Gilroy Neighborhood Academy 2005 marks the second annual collaboration between the GPD, the city’s Housing and Community Development, and South County Housing to answer residents’ most pressing, and frequently-asked, neighborhood needs – issues that each neighborhood must face, such as blight, safety, and relationships between families.

Experts from the city and thriving neighborhood associations will be on-hand to help residents of all types of neighborhoods, from high-density apartment complexes to spacious single-family homes, Muñoz said. The first academy, held last March, filled quickly with 45 Gilroy residents from all over the city.

Participants this time around will learn about safe neighborhoods and homes during the first class, on March 16. The GPD’s code enforcement officer, along with fire and police personnel, will provide information on combating blight, protecting homes against fire danger, and spotting potential gang problems in the neighborhood.

“We’re not trying to make anybody experts, but raise awareness of what’s out there in the community and … create a level of trust,” Muñoz said.

Week two, March 23, will focus on building and maintaining neighborhood associations, complete with a panel of representatives from three existing associations. The city currently is working with 13 neighborhood associations, Muñoz said. Participants in the academy will have access to city phone numbers and other resources that will help them in their neighborhood-building.

“It also allows businesses and agencies, such as (the GPD), to re-connect with a neighborhood,” Muñoz said. “Because, unless you are a part of a neighborhood, you’re not going to know what’s going on there until you go there and feel a pulse of the community.”

Monday night, the Gilroy Eigleberry Neighborhood Association hosted a thank-you dinner for the volunteers and businesses who have helped founder Art Barron and others host a handful of successful events during the past year, including a Christmas event that drew a crowd in the hundreds.

While some neighborhood associations, like GENA, have grown and linked to funding sources such as grant programs, a neighborhood association or group doesn’t have to be about money, Muñoz said. Neighborhoods can benefit even from a more casual group, getting together for ice cream socials or more serious issues like a neighborhood watch.

“It’s important for all of us to have ownership in our community,” Muñoz said.

The academy’s third week centers around involving youth in the neighborhood, with a success story from some existing neighborhood groups.

At the conclusion of the academy, Mayor Al Pinheiro will present participants with certificates of completion.

Anyone interested in attending Gilroy Neighborhood Academy 2005 may contact Rachel Muñoz at 846-0524.

Gilroy Neighborhood Academy 2005

Open to any Gilroy resident

When: Last three Wednesdays in March: 16, 23, 30 from 5:45 to 7:30pm

Where: Gilroy Senior Center,

7371 Hanna St.

For more information: Contact Community Services Officer

Rachel Muñoz at 846-0524, seating is limited.

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