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Shields-Reid neighborhood council helps unite North Richmond

on November 13, 2013

Two elementary-school children stepped off of the curb on Giaramita Street in North Richmond and sang to themselves while crossing the street. They were lost in their own world and didn’t notice a car approaching. An older woman wearing a bright yellow vest stood in the middle of the street and stopped traffic, keeping them safe.

“Come on, stay in between us and cross over to the other side,” another woman clad in safety gear following behind them said. “We always keep the kids between us.”

Every Wednesday, volunteers from the Shields-Reid neighborhood council chaperon children from the Shields-Reid community center—which is in the city of Richmond—to Verde elementary school in unincorporated North Richmond, as part of the Safe Routes program.

At first glance there’s nothing extraordinary about the scene: similar ones play out every day in cities across the country. However, bringing kids to school is just one of many programs the neighborhood council runs, and it has been credited with helping reduce crime in the community.

The Shields-Reid council recently received a crime-prevention award from the city of Richmond. At the awards-ceremony, the group was applauded for having 32 “block Captains”—more than one captain for each block in the neighborhood. “They take an active role in trying to improve their neighborhood,” which “makes the area safer,” said Richmond Police Sergeant Nicole Abetkov.

The council is also trying to unite North Richmond—an area that has historically been divided. “We have joined the city of Richmond and the unincorporated area, creating one whole,” said Marena Brown, the president of the council.

Safe Routes is one way the council brings the neighborhood together. Early in the morning last Wednesday, a small group of volunteers and children left the well-groomed field at the Shields-Reid community center to walk to Verde elementary. Brown waved at pedestrians: “Hello, and happy Wednesday to you,” she said exuberantly.

Crossing Chestley Street—and into unincorporated North Richmond—the streets became noticeably shabbier. “This is what we have to deal with along the trail to school,” Brown said, while pointing at piles of garbage on the sidewalk and at the poorly paved streets. “We need to get the mitigation crew out here to clean up our route.”

The council works closely with leaders in unincorporated North Richmond and the mitigation department to address blight—a problem that crosses jurisdictional boundaries.

“This is an area that has historically been forgotten,” said Dr. Henry Clark, an activists and member of the North Richmond Municipal Advisory Council, a community group that works closely with the Shields-Reid council. “It’s crucial that we work together as a whole to uplift North Richmond because we can’t do it in isolation,”

Tana Monteiro showed up for last week’s Safe Routes walk with her two children, Seth and Caleb.  It was the first one she had attended, but it won’t be her last. “I want to make sure other parents know about it,” she said. “A big group of people walking together is a positive activity.”

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