Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Eastside residents band together to save neighborhood

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

Richard Fowler (right), pastor of the Ninth Street Baptist Church, and Bennie Doggett (center), president of the Eastside Neighborhood Association, talk with neighborhood resident Denise Smith at the intersection of 11th and Prospect streets.
The Cincinnati Enquirer/PATRICK REDDY
COVINGTON - Wardell Humphrey, 16, was shooting hoops alone Monday morning at the basketball courts next to Randolph Park in the city's Eastside neighborhood.

Bennie Doggett and Rosalind Basey watched him from the Ninth Street Baptist Church across the street, remembering how it used to be.

"In my day, this area would be packed with kids," said Basey, 57, a lifetime resident. "When I raised my kids here, you could let them hang out on the corner. Now you don't want them there."

"I think today it's a lack of hope," added Doggett. "This is a community that's been down and depressed for a long time."

But Doggett, Basey and others in this impoverished neighborhood are on a mission to change that.

Doggett is president of the Eastside Neighborhood Association. She formed it last August with seven members. Today there are about 30 who meet each Wednesday to find ways to improve the neighborhood and get residents involved in the revitalization effort.

They want to do it all - from getting drug dealers off the corners to planting flowers along city streets. They want to take back a neighborhood they started to lose about 20 years ago, according to Basey.

What: Meeting of the Eastside Neighborhood Association
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Ninth Street Baptist Church, 231 E. Ninth St., Covington
Information: Call 466-7159 or 431-1388
"The city, the adults, the ministers - we're all to blame," said Basey, treasurer of the association. "We let drugs enter into the area, and discipline is the biggest downfall we've had with our youth. There is no discipline."

The closing of the Northern Kentucky Community Center last year added to the neighborhood's blight. Under a state investigation for misappropriation of funds, the center's closing put an end to senior citizen activities and midnight basketball leagues for kids.

The neighborhood of about 4,100 residents is bordered by Eighth and 15th streets to the north and south, and Scott Street and the Licking River to the west and east. The association wants to hear from residents about what needs to be done.

"We have good citizens in our neighborhood, but nobody is going to city hall to speak for the community. They're going as individuals with their individual problems," said Doggett. "Our motto is that we speak in one voice."

Part of that voice is Denise Smith, who has lived in the neighborhood for 20 years and is involved in the association. "A lot of people would rather just stay inside and not get involved," said Smith.

But Doggett said the more people they can get involved, the better chance the association will have of achieving its goals, which include: starting a block-watch program; improving Randolph Park by adding bathrooms, another shelter and running water; having more police walking the streets; and repairing dilapidated homes.

The group is slowly making progress. At last Wednesday's meeting, they walked the streets and took an inventory of the run-down homes. Doggett and Basey found 25 on just the two streets they covered. They plan to present a list of all the homes to the City Commission at the end of the summer to see what can be done.

They've also appointed street captains on 17 of the nearly 30 streets in the neighborhood to report problems to the association. Doggett said she won't stop until every street has a captain.

And they're receiving some financial help. OASIS, a nonprofit organization supported by the United Way that helps fund neighborhood associations, is helping the Eastside association get off the ground.

OASIS Executive Director Richard Fowler was born and raised in the neighborhood and has been pastor of the Ninth Street Baptist Church for 20 years.

"I can remember when you could safely walk the streets and leave your front door open at night," Fowler said. "This area has been neglected and we have not really forced the issue."

Covington Mayor Butch Callery said the association's success depends on people - and the more that get involved, the better.

"The city can't be everywhere at one time," Callery said. "The residents are the ones who are there every day and see what's going on. If they get involved, they can help us make it a better place."

E-mail williamcroyle@yahoo.com

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