New organization focuses on improving Dowagiac communityPublished 7:46pm Monday, March 3, 2014
The pews of Second Baptist Church were filled last Wednesday night, but not for the reason they usually are on Sunday mornings.
Last week marked the official launch of the CHAIN, a new community-based initiative to identify and correct social problems plaguing Dowagiac. The church hosted the first of several planned town hall meetings to gather ideas on the issues that matter to local residents.
“We’re here tonight so that we can discuss our concerns about what is going on in the community,” said Gene Staples, the pastor of Second Baptist Church. “We’re not here to give information, we’re here to get information. We want to hear your concerns, your desires, not just about you about those you love and care about.”
Around 35 people attended the meeting, ranging from members of Second Baptist to public officials from the local police and fire departments. The attendees were split into four separate groups, where they discussed what they see as the biggest issue affecting the local area today.
Their ideas were as diverse as the people represented at the meeting, with concerns ranging from a lack of faith outside of churches to greater educational opportunities for the city’s youth.
One issue that many in the audience said they believe is a problem in Dowagiac is the lack of employment opportunities for former convicts returning to the community after being incarcerated.
“Of a community of 6,000, you’re telling me it’s that much of an issue,” Staples asked at one point.
A resounding chorus of “yes” came from many in attendance.
“When you come out of jail or prison, and [employers] see that on your application, you’re not getting a job,” said one woman present.
Members of the Dowagiac Police Department have recognized this as an issue as well, said Deputy Chief Jarrid Bradford. Members of the police department have even told some people to list them as references on their applications.
“I don’t do that for everyone, but I’ll do it for some kids,” Bradford said. “It’s stressful for everyone. You can see look on their faces, and it’s a sense of despair. You don’t want them to give up.”
Other concerns were discussed as well by the audience, including problems with teenage pregnancy, drug use, affordable housing options and a lack of positive male role models in many local households.
The ideas gathered during the meeting will be discussed by senior leaders of the new organization, which include Staples, Bradford, Director of Public Safety Steven Grinnewald and Fire Chief Guy Evans.
Two additional meetings are lined up for next month, on March 12 and March 26. Both meetings will be held at 7 p.m. at Second Baptist Church.
While Staples said he was pleased with the turnout at the inaugural meeting, he would like to see an even greater number of people show up in the coming weeks, especially younger members of the community.
“We all come from different backgrounds,” Staples said. “But we all love this community where we live, work and worship, and we can do something to make it even better.”