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BOWLING GREEN - City Prosecutor Matt Reger is trying to make sure the first person university students meet this fall is not a police officer.
"If it is a police officer, I hope it's one who's welcoming them to Bowling Green," he said.
On Saturday, 120 volunteers from the city and Bowling Green State University - including some police officers - will be fanning out over much of the second ward near campus to introduce themselves to off-campus students, invite them to a free cook-out, and give them a bright orange bag filled with information about the community.
"The biggest issue a lot of time is that students don't have an investment in the community, and maybe the reason they don't have an investment in the community is because the community hasn't given them one," Mr. Reger said. "If the kids say, 'This seems like a really neat town. I want to find out more about Bowling Green,' that'd be great."
Sticking out of each of the 3,000 orange goodie bags is an oversized fluorescent green flyer that screams "Read me first." It contains a message from Municipal Court Judge Mark Reddin reminding students that open containers of alcohol are not legal in any public place, that drug abuse and underage possession of alcohol and drug paraphernalia are crimes, and that the city enforces all laws pertaining to drugs and alcohol.
"Convictions for drug and alcohol crimes may alter your life plans," the flyer warns. "Be intelligent, protect your future follow the law, and help reduce the Bowling Green Municipal Court's criminal caseload."
The lesson will be a week late for the dozens of students cited over the weekend for alcohol-related offenses. Classes began yesterday, and since most students moved in late last week, police were busy responding to complaints Friday and Saturday nights, many of which resulted in the first use of the city's new nuisance party law.
Chief Tom Votava said his division was prepared for the mayhem.
"It was the annual influx of students, and in the first couple of weeks, if the weather is right, events take place like they did last weekend," Chief Votava said.
The chief said he sees the information bags as a way to educate students that loud parties, litter, public urination, and drunken behavior won't be tolerated. The University of Toledo has a similar program for incoming students.
Chief Votava will be among the volunteers distributing the bags, which also contain coupons, a voter registration form, a city map, and information about downtown businesses.
"We're trying to give them a sense of ownership, to make them a part of the community," he said. "If they're part of the community, they may be less likely to destroy it."
Georgia Folkins, program coordinator in BGSU's Office of Student Life, said it's important for students to understand that while they are only here part of the year, many of their neighbors live here year-round.
Mayor John Quinn and BGSU President Sidney Ribeau will be among the pairs of volunteers passing that message along.
"I don't know [if it will make a difference], but we keep trying," Mr. Quinn said. "We do everything we can to try to promote relationships between students and neighbors."
After the bags are distributed from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., city police will grill hotdogs and hamburgers for students and volunteers in the parking lot of St. Mark's Lutheran Church on College Drive from 4 to 7 p.m. The barbecue will be paid for with part of a $5,000 grant from BGSU's Partnerships for Community Action and Center for Innovative and Transformative Education, which also helps pay for the city's Citizens on Patrol program.
Mr. Reger said the welcoming program is modeled after one in Oxford, Ohio, home of Miami University.
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