State Court Judge David Watkins called it "the first step in reclaiming our neighborhood."
With that, the Weed and Seed Safe Haven opened its doors on Saturday in the South Augusta neighborhood of Barton Village.
The house and programs it will provide are courtesy of a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Six police officers will work out of the house and provide neighborhood patrols using cars and bikes.
Capt. Jim Griffin of the Richmond County Sheriff's Department said the community has responded positively to the police presence, which should be a strong deterrent to criminals.
"It's a very positive thing and it can work, but it's going to take a combined effort. Law enforcement can't do it all," Capt. Griffin said. "The community has to pull their weight."
Besides promoting a strong police presence, the house will also provide after-school programs and a summer camp for local kids, General Equivalency Diploma classes for older residents without high school diplomas and other programs in parenting and interviewing for jobs.
"If any community can get to kids before the criminal element does, we can make a difference," said Weed and Seed co-coordinator Lillian Katharine Blanos.
Several neighborhood children
on hand for the grand opening said they are looking forward to taking part in the activities and the protection the house will provide.
"It'll stop all the killings and violence and stop people from using and selling drugs in the neighborhood," 10-year-old Carron Winfrey said.
Cynthia Anderson, a former neighborhood resident and instructor for the GED program at the house, said the services and classes there will greatly benefit the community.
"It's going to make a huge difference for people to complete their education and hold jobs down," Mrs. Anderson said. "We've needed this for so long, so I think people in the neighborhood will remain active."
Catherine Murray, a 29-year Barton Village resident who is also secretary for the local Weed and Seed organization running the home, said residents are confident the new program will work.
"(The neighborhood) is very excited because we see good things being accomplished," Mrs. Murray said.
Judge Watkins, a guest speaker at the grand opening who grew up in nearby Bellmeade, said the program will be a success if all parties work together to better the neighborhood.
"If they believe in the program it will flourish ... It will nurture hope and take a life all its own."
Mark Mathis can be reached at 823-3339 or firstname.lastname@example.org.