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Improve Delray Neighborhoods

Seminar aims to improve Delray neighborhoods

By Patty Pensa
Staff Writer

June 10, 2001

DELRAY BEACH + Programs don't solve problems, and city hall doesn't have all the answers.

That's what Joe Gray, a former Orange County government official, told about 14 residents gathered Saturday for his workshop, "Preparing Future Neighborhood Leaders," during the city's first Neighborhood Summit.

The answer, Gray said, is for residents to learn how the system works -- and work it.

"People really think, for some crazy reason, that all the answers to their problems are in city hall," he said. "Government's bottom line is that it has a responsibility to trust in the common sense of the people. Citizens need to trust that government works for the common good. You've got to put personal issues aside. It's about the community."

It's also about community building, where residents talk to each other and watch out for the neighborhood, Gray said.

That notion was central during the summit, said Kenneth Thomas, planning committee chairman.

Divided into 10 workshops, the summit addressed topics such as leadership, drugs, traffic, entrepreneurship, newsletters and code compliance so residents could learn new ideas on tackling problems and improving their communities, he said.

Jacquie and Caleb Owens, who bought their first home on Northeast Seventh Street in February, said they wanted to get more involved in government and their neighborhood, which Jacquie Owens said "is full of absentee owners, and the halfway houses are out of control."

"We learned how to navigate city hall, how to organize, and we're getting to know people and who to call," she said.

The Owenses worry about issues of traffic, drugs and absentee owners, as does Gloria Elliott, who lives on South Swinton Avenue.

"What we need to do is get a grip on absentee property owners and slumlords," said Elliott, who attended the Code Compliance and Reporting workshop. "They pull down the entire neighborhood. Slumlords should be told it's time to leave."

Cameron Harris of Lake Worth came to the summit to gather ideas for her neighborhood association, which she said is relatively new, as are most associations in that city. She said the summit offered practical information on finding sources in the community and how to become partners with the city to improve her neighborhood.

When the summit planning committee started organizing the event a few months ago, members selected workshop topics according to concerns most frequently aired at city meetings. Thomas said based on resident feedback, he wants to hold the summit again next year. Workshops on newsletters and celebrations left residents with ideas to take back to their neighborhoods, he said.

"I noticed a lot of communication between residents," he said. "Even if they don't live in the same neighborhood, there was camaraderie. There was a lot of sharing. It was just really positive."

Patty Pensa can be reached at or 561-243-6609.

Copyright © 2001, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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