Leaders rally to highlight opportunities for 2011

Community United

Members of Bible Deliverance Temple will gather tonight for a New Year's Eve service that stretches well into the morning hours.

The Rev. Kelly McKnight issued an invitation to the service to the 75 or so people gathered at Harrisburg United, a rally his church's Another Chance Ministries Network held Thursday night.

The invitation came with a reassurance of safety.

"We've never had anyone robbed or solicited coming to church," McKnight said.

It's telling for a neighborhood that's made strides in its highly publicized battle against drugs, crime and nuisance properties, yet still has a way to go in 2011.

"I'm proud to tell you I live in the heart of the 'hood. But as with other communities, we have our issues," McKnight said. "We're not where we want to be, but we're not where we were."

It became a theme for the night as officials -- including Augusta Commission member Matt Aitken, Capt. Scott Peebles of the sheriff's office and Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Mason -- reflected on 2010 and the potential for progress in 2011.

Members of the community, along with representatives of Mercy Ministries -- which runs a day shelter and ministry in Harrisburg -- the Harrisburg-West End Neighborhood Association and Olde Town Neighborhood Association, peppered the officials with questions inside the church's Family Life Center on the corner of Eve and Fenwick streets.

What's the best way for neighbors to shut down a known crack house? Will the police use the Fenwick Street substation? The city seems prime for expansion; how does Harrisburg play its part?

More often than not, the answers to those questions tied the future of Harrisburg to the future of the city itself.

In 2011, Augusta's plan to reorganize city departments into a streamlined system will allow community concerns to be heard and dealt with more effectively, said Aitken, the District 1 commissioner representing Harrisburg.

"2011 is going to be a very pivotal year for us as a city. It's going to take all of us to build a team that'll make our city shine," Aitken said. "There's so much opportunity here. The stars are lining up. We have to capitalize on that."

The forthcoming Kroc Center on Broad Street in Harrisburg will bring about change for the community, yet it stands as an all-too-rare example of outside development, he added.

The $100 million center is scheduled to open this summer. McKnight is hopeful it'll bring a housing revival to Harrisburg that will begin to address community's "image problem."

Too often, he said, crime is emphasized to the neglect of all else. For the community to succeed, it'll have to stress the positive changes that take place, starting with friendly dialogue that continues well after Thursday night.

"We're ardently working to bring good people into our neighborhood," he said. "Good things are happening in Harrisburg. Don't ignore the bad. Just accentuate the good. Thank God for our neighborhood."