Originally created 04/29/01

Festival celebrates community



Thumping music drifted through the Barton Village neighborhood Saturday as the Belle Terrace Marching Unit danced in the street.

The performance was part of the second annual Spring Fling community block festival. With several streets closed off to traffic, residents gathered for a day of music, food and fellowship.

"Basically, it's just a fun afternoon for everyone to come together," said Michael Simmons, the director of the Augusta-Richmond County Weed and Seed initiative.

There were games and face painting for young ones, a basketball net for the athletic and music for everyone.

And everyone received a green T-shirt that read: "I live on the best street, in the best neighborhood in the best city in the world."

"Part of the Weed and Seed strategy is to bring partnerships together," Mr. Simmons said.

The partnership includes police officers, firefighters, local politicians and the residents. Mayor Bob Young gave neighborhood children rides in his antique car while firefighters gave fire safety lessons.

Operation Weed and Seed is a federal program that aims to weed out violent crime, drug abuse and gang activity in targeted high-crime neighborhoods, and then seed the areas by revitalizing the neighborhoods.

"A couple of years ago, when I first came to visit my sister here, it was bad," Keith Antoine said, referring to the drug trafficking and crime in the neighborhood. "But the people came together, and now you can come in here at 4 in the morning and it's clean."

As do many other residents, Mr. Antoine credits the Richmond County Sheriff's Office for having deputies in the neighborhood 24 hours a day.

"They've been doing a very fine job," said Bobby G. Hankerson, the president of the Barton Chapel Progressive Neighborhood Association. "The most important part about Weed and Seed is the law enforcement."

But officers credit the success to the residents' efforts.

Officer Dennis Bedichek said that the community has drastically changed in the past couple of years.

"And the participation in the community has really helped," he said.

This includes programs such as the Safe Haven home, located in the middle of the community. Safe Haven is a house that has been transformed into a community center. In addition to various classes, there are counselors and health screenings available.

Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332.