The city of Macon is taking an ambitious approach to a national program called Shalom Zones.
While most participating cities designate a single shalom zone — which provides the framework for neighborhoods to redevelop themselves by building on their positives — Macon has six: Lynmore Estates, Village Green, Pleasant Hill, Bellevue, Beall’s Hill and east Macon.
Shalom zones bring together churches, community leaders, businesses and local government to revitalize neighborhoods under the guidance of the national organization that provides training in specific areas such as strategic planning and fundraising.
But Macon, which is hosting a conference of the program’s governing body this weekend, aims to take the concept to a new level.
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Macon’s plan is to gradually bring other Macon neighborhoods into the program until nearly the whole city is involved — until Macon is a “city of shalom,” said Keith Moffett, the city’s director of internal affairs.
Macon is the only city in Georgia with shalom zones, and it would be the first city in the nation to be designated a city of shalom, officials at the conference said Friday. The program was started by the United Methodist Church in Los Angeles after the 1992 race riots.
Bishop John Schol, national committee chairman, said, “We want to take the story of Macon out to other people, out to the rest of the country and our international community.”
Moffett said Macon officials started by identifying each neighborhood’s assets and existing efforts — like Project Unity in Village Green — and matched it with the resources the program provides.
The city is then able to use feedback from residents to focus its own resources. For example, he said, Mayor Robert Reichert is dedicated to tearing down dilapidated houses throughout the city, but with input from the shalom zone groups, they can target particularly troublesome houses to make an immediate impact.
Speaking to the committee on behalf of the mayor, who could not attend Friday morning’s session because of another meeting, Moffett said, “The mayor is focused on those tangible things that can be done and seen by the community so they know it’s working.”
The city first joined the program last March and by summer 2009 had identified people and groups who could help make the program work. Last October, training for the program began and shalom zone groups will graduate next month.
Annie Allen is a shalom zone trainer who has worked in communities across the country. Her job, she said, is to help residents develop their skills and a vision for what they want their neighborhood to become.Having made a few trips to Macon already, she said the city’s diversity surprised her.
“This is the most ecumenical community I’ve been involved with,” she said, pointing to the number of Macon’s Christian denominations, Muslims, Jews and secular groups. “There has been incredible progress. Without even graduating yet, there has been real success here.”
To contact writer Chris Horne, call 744-4494.