Thursday, June 17, 2004

Maybe we can save our city 1 life at a time

Peter Bronson

Rick, Linda and Jeff don't even know each other. They're not getting any big awards for being the Greatest People Who Make Big Donations in Cincinnati. But maybe they should.

Their contributions are not the kind with lots of zeroes on a check. They're worth more than that.

• Walk into the locker room at Maketewah Country Club, and there's Rick Armstead, the man in charge. But he doesn't use his free time to walk the velvety greens and carpet-smooth fairways. He's as far from that as Ping is from "bling-bling.''

"We've walked downtown, Westwood and Avondale. We're getting ready to take on Over-the-Rhine,'' he said. Armstead and about 10 other guys started campaigning for President Bush with Cincinnati Councilman Sam Malone. But he soon found he had a message to deliver.

"I tell them: 'You got it all wrong. The police are not your enemy. If you respect authority, you can be whatever you want. Down with dope.' "

He wants Cincinnati to know that "a lot of people are scared, but there are some guys out here who want this to change. Everybody in our community is not against the police.''

His car windshield was smashed, and he says he was told, "We don't want to hear that stuff." But he's not quitting.

"We gotta take our city back - one neighborhood at a time.''

• Linda didn't want me to use her last name because from 1989 until a year ago, she was selling herself on the street to feed a $500-a-day crack habit. "I went to any length to get mine,'' she said. "When you are doing those things, you get so ashamed and embarrassed for who you are - I couldn't even look someone in the eye without crying.''

Thanks to treatment at Talbert House and her own determination, she is clean and sober and has a full-time job in a fast-food restaurant. "Drive-through leader is not much. But to me, to see my name on the wall is really something.''

She can look people in the eye - even laugh and joke.

Most who get a smile from her with their fries will never know she went to prison three times and begged on the streets for food. Someday, she might almost forget it, too.

• Jeff Best of Colerain Township was vice president at a local trucking company, about to be promoted to president. Instead he quit and bought Spring Grove Manufacturing in Camp Washington, which makes plastic phone book covers.

"After the riots in 2001, I prayed for 30 days for God to show me a way to help people in the inner city,'' he said. At the end of the month, he found the business he now runs.

He makes about a third of his former salary, but his new company produces something far more valuable: hope.

"We hire people who are down on their luck - with drug problems, or maybe they've been to jail." One of his 12 employees has stayed on the job more than a year - after doing 13 years for armed robbery. "Two of our guys right now are back in jail. But we're just trying to give people another shot in life.''

When the children of an employee were nearly hit in a drive-by shooting, Best decided to buy an apartment building, to provide a safe, affordable place for single mothers and their children.

"Our business is growing, but right now it is a bit of a struggle,'' he said. "Personally, it's very rewarding.''

One neighborhood, one life, one city at a time.

Best said it best:

"I believe we are all here to make some kind of an impact.''

E-mail or call 768-8301.

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