Outreach efforts to help stop the violence in Pleasantville include a twist on tailgating.
Before the Junior Youth Football game that pits the Pleasantville Jokers against their rival the Atlantic City Dolphins in November, there will be a cookout akin to those that began in Atlantic City last year.
The goal, organizers said, is not only to engage the community with law enforcement but to make sure the rivalry — which has sometimes led to problems — stays on the field.
Neighborhood walks and barbecues in Atlantic City are part of an effort by the Coalition for a Safe Community during a summer that has seen a decrease in violent crime. Borrowing from Atlantic City, Pleasantville is now looking at similar ventures.
“We learn from each other,” Pleasantville Mayor Jesse Tweedle said Friday, following a coalition meeting that discussed bringing the programs to his town. “We want to show people that Atlantic City and Pleasantville will always work together. This is how a community is supposed to be.”
Last year, Dewane Parker — head of security for Atlantic City’s schools — began the barbecues as a way to “Stop the Silence” of people not sharing information with police out of fear and distrust. Then, Stop the Violence of Atlantic County — now working as the coalition — began weekly walks to help get residents involved and show that leaders care about the violence plaguing those neighborhoods.
“The bottom line is to try to get the community interacting more with police,” Parker said, adding that residents and police have shared information at both the cookouts and the walks. “You have to make sure the police department, the fire department, all law-enforcement engage with the community.”
It’s up to the officials to “break the ice,” he said.
Officials such as acting Atlantic County Prosecutor Jim McClain and county Sheriff Frank Balles — a former Pleasantville police captain — are good at helping with that, said Tweedle, who also credited Parker.
“He has done a lot on his own, and now we’re reaping the benefits of what he’s done,” the mayor said.
There will be two cookouts in town, beginning with one from 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 21 at Walnut Park. The second will be from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 26, before the 2 p.m. Dolphins-Jokers game.
“I think this really enhances our program,” said Clark Hughes, president of the Junior Jokers Athletic Association.
Also helping the program is a surprise donation by Gary Field, owner of Gary’s Restaurant in town, who offered to pay the $810 it will cost for that game’s officiating crew. Usually, that money comes from concessions. But since the pre-game food will likely cut into those profits, Field decided to help out.
“I want to do that for the kids,” he told the group.
His restaurant also will donate burgers and hot dogs for the first cookout.
“You can see the excitement in the air,” Tweedle said after the meeting. “We’re establishing a relationship. We’re establishing a trust in one another.”
The next Atlantic City cookout is from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at the Uptown Complex at 323 Madison Ave. About 1,300 people attended the last cookout, on New York Avenue, Parker said.
Other programs implemented in Atlantic City that are expected to come to Pleasantville include Project 365, which focuses the next year on problems affecting each neighborhood. In Atlantic City, that is being done by wards. Pleasantville plans to focus one initiative on the north side of town and one on the south.
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