Racine Neighborhood Watch staff includes Executive Director Charlie French and Program Director Susan Feehrer.
BY KATIE MATTESON
Do you know your neighbors? Do you look out for them? Do they look out for you?
If you answered yes to these questions, then you’ve done the first and arguably the most important thing on McGruff the Crime Dog’s list of safety habits at home to “take a bite out of crime.”
McGruff, along with members of law enforcement and local firefighters, will be on hand for “America’s Night Out Against Crime” – National Night Out set for Tuesday, Aug. 7.
Last year an estimated 6,700 neighbors got together at community centers, churches, Community Oriented Policing (COP) houses and private homes. Sixty-four groups, from 10 to several hundred people, registered for the 27th consecutive event organized by Racine Neighborhood Watch (RNW).
Racine Neighborhood Watch, Inc. is a 501(c)(3) organization founded in 1981 to organize and empower residents to take responsibility for their neighborhoods. And while RNW works closely with local law enforcement and is housed in the Racine City Hall Annex building, it is not part of law enforcement or a city department.
It’s mission: “to create safe, friendly and attractive neighborhoods throughout the Racine community.”
Charlie French serves as executive director and Susan Feehrer is the program director.
French has been climbing the 64 steps up the stairs to the RNW office on the third floor for 21 years (although he admits that after his second or third daily trip, he sometimes takes the elevator).
He started as a volunteer block captain in his neighborhood near Janes Elementary School and then was asked by then-executive director Mary Beth Aldrich to expand his service to collect regular reports from the other block captains. Later, Aldrich hired him for a lighting project and then to help with the Group Workcamps program.
He’s coordinated the Group Home Repair Workcamp ever since and 12 years ago took on the executive director role as well.
For 20 consecutive years, RNW has worked with Group Cares, a non-profit organization based in Colorado which recruits youth, ages 14-19, from various church youth groups from around the country to come to the Racine community and do home repairs for those qualified residents who need repair work done.
To date, more than 1,000 homeowners have benefited from this home and neighborhood improvement program.
“In addition to the benefits to the individual homeowner, the program really makes a positive impact in the neighborhoods,” French said.
Feehrer’s main responsibility is coordinating the Neighborhood Block Watch program, which has about 400 active blocks.
Both Feehrer and French attend monthly neighborhood meetings, most of which are held at the COP houses.
Block Watches begin with an organization meeting. RNW staff, along with law enforcement, provide basic crime prevention and safety information and work with residents on specific problems in their area. Each household receives printed reference materials including window clings and each organized block receives a Neighborhood Watch street sign.
The biggest difference between the COP programs and Neighborhood Block Watch meetings is that COP works in larger neighborhood areas, while Neighborhood Block Watches are organized on a block-by-block basis.
“Our block watch captains are not Gladys Kravitz or Ned Flanders,” Feehrer said. “They’re just ordinary people who want to want to help their neighborhood become safer.”
French said that the Block Watch program is very effective and cautions that even though crime is down it’s still just as important that “residents are the eyes and ears of their neighborhoods.”
Funding for the organization’s $250,000 budget comes from grants from the City of Racine, Village of Mount Pleasant, Racine Community Foundation, the Racine Dominicans, S.C. Johnson and individual donations, as well as from its annual fundraiser, Take a Taste Out of Crime. Next year’s event, which includes wine, beer and cheese tasting and a silent auction, is set for Friday, March 29 from 5-9 p.m. at Roma Lodge.
For more information, call (262) 637-5711 or visit racinenw.com.