Each year, Paul Jones spends a lot of his free time collecting and recycling cans and then donates the proceeds to a charity he feels is worthy. This year, he chose the Keeping Everyone’s Eyes on the Neighborhood program that has managed to get a lot done without seeking publicity.
Ward 1 Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian recognized Jones for his work in the community and donations to the KEEN program at a Feb. 19 City Council meeting.
KEEN has been working for change for several years in the area around Clark High School, 4291 Pennwood Ave. When Tarkanian took office in January 2007, she focused on the neighborhood.
“It was the most difficult part of the ward,” she said. “It had more crime and some shootings. We knew we had to change that.”
While on the Clark County School Board, she worked with Ronnie T. Smith, who had recently become principal at Clark High School. With his help, Tarkanian organized meetings with the Metropolitan Police Department, apartment managers and city and county officials. The neighborhood includes city and county jurisdiction.
The meetings determined that the best way to improve the neighborhood would be to let people have pride in it and teach them there was much they could take care of themselves.
“We wanted them to know that we’re here to assist and help find resources and things like paint and medical assistance,” said Robin Munier, special assistant to Tarkanian. “Our goal was to teach them to fish, so to speak.”
A resource fair took place early in the process to promote the movement to improve the neighborhood. To bring people to the event at the baseball field at Clark High School, organizers got the word out in an unusual manner.
“We did a parade,” Munier said. “We had a bunch of kids with yellow T-shirts that had KEEN printed on them and we had a big banner. The Clark High School band marched with us.”
The parade took a winding route through several streets and apartment complexes.
“Some people started looking out the windows, and some people opened their doors,” Munier said. “Then they started joining up and following the parade. We had 2,300 people from the neighborhood at the fair.”
At a series of meetings and discussions with community members, residents’ concerns and needs were assessed.
“The councilwoman wanted the city to be user-friendly and open up lines of communication,” Munier said. “We could see there was a real problem.”
Munier said that while touring the neighborhood, an 8-year-old child began taking her around and pointing out where gangs hid drugs. Munier heard stories of chickens being slaughtered in apartment courtyards. The graffiti problem was rampant. At the beginning and middle of each month, the dumpsters overflowed, and trash ended up in the street.
“We went to Republic Services, and they were a great help,” Munier said. “They brought in dumpsters. We got the neighborhood kids to paint trash cans to put by the apartment mailboxes, so unwanted rate mail could be disposed of immediately.”
A modular building was set up on the grounds of Clark High School as a base to coordinate efforts and host events, such as inoculations. Smith suggested the name KEEN, and it was painted on the modular.
Some events, such as neighborhood cleanups, were handled by volunteers from the area. Other initiatives, such as dealing with a problematic pay phone, fell to city officials.
“There was a pay phone at the 7-Eleven on Arville (Street) and Pennwood (Avenue) that was being used by drug dealers,” Munier said. “We talked to the owner and they were fine about us taking it out. They also agreed to put more lighting out there.”
Tarkanian said the 7-year-old program has made great strides in changing the neighborhood for the better and continues to grow and add new aspects.
“Some students from UNLV developed a program to help teach students in the neighborhood how to do computer coding,” she said. “These four young women from UNLV started the project as an assignment, but now they’re working on their own time to create the next level of the class.”
Clark High School’s new principal, Jill Pendleton, has continued the school’s association with the program, including organizing student volunteers to paint over graffiti.
“We just want to see things improve and they are,” Munier said. “It’s making a difference. People are becoming proud of their neighborhood and don’t want to see it messed up.”
Contact East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at email@example.com or 702-380-4532.