A group of people in Middletown are fighting to transform a community park into a safe space and turn its old reputation as a place of dangers and drugs into a reputation of family-friendly fun.
Neighbors believe Sherman Park on Wayne Avenue in Middletown is in the middle of a transition. In the past, it's been labeled a park plagued with problems. Between 2007 and 2017, there are five pages of online Middletown police reports listing the park as the location for incidents like weapon complaints, alleged assaults, and drug overdoses.
"There were a lot of heroin needles and things like that just spread through this park, trash, a lot of people you wouldn't want around your kids, a lot of gang type of people hanging around," said Jamie Duff, a parent.
It's that reputation a group of concerned citizens is working to change. Jeri Lewis, a community activist who is also part of a faith-based missionary group called Kingswell, is heading up the efforts. She said she's already seen vast improvements, such as a new park security camera that was recently gifted by the police department.
"It's a great addition to add security and hopefully deter anything that would happen when we're not here," Lewis said.
Lewis, alongside fellow parents and members of local church congregations, is taking steps towards a family-friendly environment every day, from hosting movie nights and a summer eating program to helping kids at the park pass out plants.
"We had one of the young ladies that was walking the street. I know what she did for a living, but one of the kids gave her a flower right before she got into a car. She changed her mind and didn't get into that car," Lewis said.
The park is still not perfect. Police continue to patrol the area, and parents, like a neighborhood watch, look out for suspicious subjects and will search for syringes. At the end of the day though, they believe the "before and after" is growing and growing into something they are proud of.
"Something they can depend on and be with their family and be with their kids," said Gloria Freeman, a member of the Church of the Ascension.
Lewis said her religious faith is really what got her involved. A small group from the Church of the Ascension goes to the park once a week to pick up trash and clean up the park. There are also a lot of events planned for the summer.
Lewis said anyone interested in taking part in what's planned can join the Kingswell Sherman Park Facebook group for more information.
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