Linking to better futures: New organization formed to address local issues, crime
Published 8:00 am Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Local residents will have the opportunity to make their voices heard, as a new organization dedicated toward addressing crime and other issues affecting the city will hold the first of several town hall meetings on Wednesday night.
Known as The CHAIN, which stands for The Community Helping Advance and Improve Neighborhoods, this new initiative is a collaboration between Dowagiac churches and other service organizations dedicated toward finding solutions that will help reduce crime, drug use and violence in Dowagiac. The event, which will begin at 7 p.m. at Second Baptist, will allow citizens to suggest social problems they would like to see addressed locally.
“The purpose is to create a grassroots effort that will generate a sustainable plan to support our community,” said Gene Staples, pastor of Second Baptist Church and creator of the organization. “It’s a bottom-up, rather than top-down, effort.”
Staples has been working to improve conditions in the city since taking over as pastor of the church two years ago. Over the past several months, he has spoken with leaders with the Dowagiac police and fire departments, the school district and local government to gather support for the new initiative.
“Out of the 6,000 people in the city, we would be happy to help even 10 percent of them,” Staples said. “If we can get to 600 families, we know we can make a big difference in the community.”
The pastor has already identified several problems he would like to address, such as the lack of a community center for the city’s youth.
“We can target people that are 13 and younger to help them before they make any major life-altering mistakes,” Staples said.
Another goal he hopes the new organization will accomplish is to help reduce the racial and economic gaps that currently exist within the city’s population, he said.
“The name ‘The CHAIN’ refers to the fact that we are only as strong as our weakest link,” Staples said.
Staples is no stranger to launching massive people-centric programs, he said. He worked as a community organizer for many years in South Bend, dedicating himself to several projects related to promoting social justice.
“They showed me how faith-based community organizing can make a difference in any community when you look past denomination, economic status, skin color or heritage to work together toward a common goal,” he said.
Second Baptist originally hoped to launch the program last month under the moniker Transforming Community Through Action. However, the event was rescheduled due to adverse weather conditions, rebranding itself in the process.
“This is a brand new opportunity for people to let their voice be heard,” Staples said. “It’s not a political platform. It’s something that everyday citizens can use to come up with solutions for themselves.”
Free food will be served immediately following the discussion. In addition, the church will hand out door prizes, including two gas cards.
“We want everyone to come out, no matter what their background is, no matter what their income or social status is,” Staples said.