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Published: Wednesday, 5/12/2004

Toledo: Villagekeepers City group serves as police 'eyes and ears'

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Penny Brown could have kept her feet up and relaxed this summer and attended some of the city's festivals with no responsibilities whatsoever.

But what fun would that be for the 66-year-old great-grandmother? None, according to her.

That's why Ms. Brown will be one of 10 trained city goodwill ambassadors called Toledo Villagekeepers. Mayor Jack Ford, the Board of Community Relations, and the Toledo Police Department hope Ms. Brown and the rest of her Villagekeepers become a noticeable fixture at popular events like the Old West End Festival, the Art Tatum Jazz Festival, and the Lagrange Street Polish Festival.

The Villagekeepers are adult volunteers trained to act as city ambassadors and be the "eyes and ears" of the Board of Community Relations and the police departments. Juanita Greene, executive director of the board, said the Villagekeepers will act in various roles from greeters, troubleshooters, and observers. The goal of the group is to create a positive atmosphere, answer questions, and by observing large groups help prevent problems before they start.

"I could sit around and do nothing, but why would I?" Ms. Brown said. "To me, that's boring. To me, this sounded like a lot of fun, and I learned a lot as well. As long as I have my health, I believed I could continue to give back."

Toledo Villagekeepers program is taken from a similar group in Cleveland, called the Peacekeepers. The Peacekeepers were formed in 1990 in an attempt to calm public disturbances at the city's annual Riverfest family celebrations in The Flats area.

The Peacekeepers can now be seen around that city at Cleveland Indians' baseball games, crime-prevention activities, and other public events. Ms. Greene said Mr. Ford took the idea to the Board of Community Relations.

The name Villagekeepers was taken from the well-known African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," Ms. Greene said.

The 10 Villagekeepers went

through six weeks of training at the Toledo Police Academy at Owens Community College. There, they learned first aid and CPR, information on street-gang awareness, crime-scene management, gathering information for 911 operators, and role playing.

"The training was very eye opening, especially the part about gang awareness," Ms. Brown said.

"I will never look at Toledo the same again. I can see so many different things now."

Ms. Greene said Villagekeepers don't have police powers and have been instructed not to confront criminal suspects but simply to contact law enforcement with information if they see something suspicious.

Deana Glover, director of the J. Frank Troy Senior Center, said many clients were excited about the opportunity to be Villagekeepers.

"They are a very enthusiastic group," Ms. Glover said.

"I tell them today is the first day of the rest of their lives and they have really embraced this program.

"I think it has helped some of them accept their aging process better. They believe this is a lot of fun as well."

Alice Makin, 66, said she felt it was an honor to participate as a Toledo Villagekeeper.

She said along with the classes at the police academy, that she said she found "fascinating," it was a sense of pride among her children and grandchildren.

"My grandkids saw my certificate [from the police academy training] and asked, 'Are you part of the police?" Ms. Makin said. "I said, 'No. I'm just their friend.' It's exciting for me to be able to go out and help others. My children are proud of me doing this. I'm proud of myself."

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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