More from the series
Building Blocks from Blight
The Telegraph is investigating blight in Bibb County and its impact on the community. Over the next few months, Telegraph reporter Samantha Max will profile local residents affected by blight in their own communities. If you’d like to be interviewed, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (478) 744-4306.
She’s been a mediator, a concerned voice, a gateway to change and a warrior on the front lines of blight.
Judy Gordon, though, is just doing her job.
For the past 10 years, Gordon has served as an intermediary between residents and the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office as coordinator of the Neighborhood Watch program. She works with about 100 community groups throughout the county that are dedicated to the safety and beautification of the neighborhoods they call home.
Some meet each week and others communicate through apps and Facebook pages. Gordon’s goal is to give residents the tools they need to tackle the issues that concern them most, like crime and blight. The following interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What is the goal of these groups?
The goal of the Neighborhood Watch group and the groups that are already formed is just to have a very nice place to live – to combat crime, as well as any problems or concerns they have in their neighborhood, such as overgrown grass, any code enforcement violations. And watching out for each other.
As you drive through Bibb County, you see so many neighborhoods that are overrun by blight. Tell me what impact you’ve seen that having on different community members.
The community, they’ve been very vocal with their commissioners, with the Sheriff’s Office, with the mayor, as well. (They want to know) what the solutions are. How can they help in preventing – not just only getting rid of it – but how can they help in preventing it (from) happening again? There have been some neighborhoods that have offered to purchase homes to make even safe havens for after school for children. So they have been attending commissioner meetings. They have also been vocal with the Neighborhood Watch by inviting commissioners to come to their meetings as well as other departments from Macon-Bibb, such as the code enforcement.
Why do you think it’s important for these community members to feel like they have some sort of control over the blight issue?
It is important to them, because ... their purpose is maintaining safe, as well as a beautiful place to live. They are also involved with Keep Macon-Bibb Beautiful, with the litter hotline that has been established and reporting litter when they see people littering, even at restaurants. If they see someone throwing things out of their cars, they report that to the litter hotline.
Tell me a little bit about what role you play in all of this.
I’m the coordinator, so I coordinate the groups. I get them organized, and then I just help them maintain. Also, I stand as a liaison between the citizens and every department in Macon-Bibb County. So, if they have concerns and they want to have those addressed, they would contact me and I would then contact the appropriate person. I also serve as educating on what their roles and responsibilities are as the neighborhood watch group and how they can address concern and the people that they can go to, also, with concerns.
Can you tell me a little bit more about what those roles and responsibilities are?
As far as being a Neighborhood Watch participant, it’s just: ‘See something. Hear something. Say something.’ And it’s basically reporting and letting the players that be (become) aware of the concerns that they have or issues that they have. So, for the sheriff’s department, it’s being the eyes and the ears, because we can’t be everywhere.
Tell me a little bit about why this was a job that you were excited about.
Actually, my sister saw this job being advertised, and she felt like it was a perfect fit for me. And I, at the time, had just been retired from education, and 10 years later, it is a perfect fit. I enjoy working with the community. I enjoy seeing results. And I just enjoy making a difference in the community.
What’s the hardest part about your job?
Oh, that’s a good question. Sometimes not being able to give the results that the community would like to have.
And what do you see as some of the barriers to reaching those outcomes?
Manpower, finances, that’s pretty much it. And just getting people to report suspicious activity and concerns.
Is there any situation that really stands out in your mind of a time where there was some big hurdle that the community was facing — especially if there’s one maybe related to blight — and it really came together?
There was an area over on Main Street – Main and Fort Hill Street – and that area was in dire need of cleaning. There was just a lot of bushes, shrubbery. There was at one point where there was a house behind all of that, and the lady could not even drive through. And I spoke with one of our commanders, and he had a crew to go out and clear as much as they possibly could. And the people that had been, you know, voicing their concerns to me, they called me and they were just so excited about it. And every time she sees me, she still, to this day, is thankful for the work that was done.
What is your hope for this county, looking forward, in terms of how it brings communities together to address blight?
More communication – just, everyone just, you know, communicating with each other and educating the community on the process. And to know that it’s not gonna be an overnight change. But someone is definitely listening and addressing it.
This story is part of a series in The Telegraph investigating blight in Bibb County and its impact on the community. Over the next few months, Telegraph reporter Samantha Max will profile local residents affected by blight in their own communities. If you’d like to be interviewed, you can email her at email@example.com or call her at (478) 744-4306.
Samantha Max is a Report for America corps member and reports for The Telegraph with support from the News/CoLab at Arizona State University. Follow her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/smax1996 and on Twitter @samanthaellimax. You can also join her Facebook group. Learn more about Report for America at www.reportforamerica.org.