By Kevin Spradlin
ROCKINGHAM — The parents, caregivers and the children under their watch Monday afternoon at the Gardenwood and Crown Pointe apartment complexes off Long Drive had no desire for violence.
Black, white or something else, all they wanted was to enjoy a hot dog, some chips and fruit punch inside the E.R. Martin Community Policing Center and take home some school supplies provided by the apartment complex managers and distributed by officers and telecommunicators with the Rockingham Police Department.
It was, in short, a back-to-school event just like any other.
“It is a good place to live,” said Linda Hatcher, on-site manager for the Gardenwood complex that shared Cauthen Drive with its independent neighbor, Crown Pointe. Both complexes are Section 8, low-income housing. The neighborhood has had more than its fair share of crime and violence. In 2014 alone, there already have been at least two shootings. Mercifully, none of them have been fatal, and police have apprehended the suspects — Taquan McDonald in a February shooting that sent two women to a Charlotte hospital and Kevin Williams in a July incident that wounded a 20-year-old man.
Hatcher, a veteran property manager, said that any Section 8 property can be a good neighborhood. And at anytime “you can get a bad apple in any barrel.”
Rockingham Police Chief Billy Kelly said department staffs the community center in the summers in such a way that allows officers to get away from the police cruisers and patrol the area on foot, by bicycle and via golf cart. All three methods allow for a more personal interaction. The presence and approach, Kelly said, has helped decrease the number of violent calls for help from the two apartment complexes during the summer months.
And as temperatures drop, Kelly and others said, people seem to return to their daily routine of work, school and chores which generally limits idle time to get involved in trouble. Events such as the one Monday, as well as the faith-based anti-violence “Fun Day” rally in the neighborhood on Saturday, in which city police officers and firefighters took part — assist in keeping open the lines of communication between the public safety agencies, the residents and the apartment complexes’ staff.
The focus on Monday, however, was in starting that fall routine on the right step. After filling up on food, the kids were handed bags with school supplies — notebook paper, a notebook, pencils, crayons and a folder — before they were wished good luck to start the school year.
Sarah Reid said her two children are ready. Destiny Reid is a second-year student at Richmond Early College who aspires to be a lawyer. Young Jefferey Covington, 5, might not have a specific career choice in mind but he’s ready to begin classes at Washington Street Elementary School just the same, his mother said.
Shenna Rainwater is keeping a watchful eye on her 11-year-old daughter Tea as she makes the transition from elementary school to Rockingham Middle School. Tea spent part of the summer with her father in Virginia and much of the rest in slumber parties locally with friends.
“We’re winding (summer) down now,” Shenna Rainwater said with a week to go before classes begin for the fall semester. “She’s ready to see her friends, but she’s not ready for homework.”