TRUSTBuild links people with outreach agencies

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 7, 2006

The Selma Times-Journal

The idea of a community outreach department came from a community assessment and the continuous punishment of citizens who didn’t know where to get help, according to Selma Mayor James Perkins Jr.

During a breakfast Wednesday with about 200 local pastors, nonprofit executives and business leaders, Perkins laid out the vision of TRUSTBuild, which he said was developed to link persons in need with the appropriate agencies that could provide help. He said the program, which opponents labeled as “social engineering,” was designed to facilitate – not take the place of agencies already in place.

Email newsletter signup

The community outreach initiative will partner a law enforcement officer with one of six new community liaisons to go out into each community and develop relationships that foster better understanding in whatever area needed, from help with family members in need of substance abuse treatment to repairing street lights.

The city has been divided into six zones. Each day, liaisons teamed with a police officer will go out on foot meeting neighbors and addressing problems residents have by referring them to appropriate agencies. Sherri James, community outreach coordinator, and her staff of seven welcomed visitors to the new office on the first floor of the Selma Community Center at 16 Franklin St.

“We’re going to help the agencies and the citizens in need, by bringing them together,” she said. “We’re trying to change the mindset of the people. I’m just excited about this. It’s going to be awesome.”

The first day the liaisons hit the streets will be Sept. 11, she said. Right now they’re developing forms that will be used to document the numbers of contacts, and the referrals. Time will also be spent following up on referrals, she said, which will provide measurable results.

The community liaisons are Dennis Rutledge, Teresa Carter, Derriet Moore, MaShawn Hunter, Gloria Simmons and Dorothy Hawkins. Remonia Hardy is the TRUSTBuild secretary. The budget for community outreach for this fiscal year

is $181,106, according to city treasurer Cynthia Mitchell. Next year’s budget is currently being developed for the 2006-2007 fiscal year.

Selma Police Chief Jimmy Martin introduced six officers that will be assigned to TRUSTBuild: Carlos Jones, lead officer; Mike Meyer, Dorothy Cowan, Evelyn Ghant, Tim Barnhill and Beauty Benjamin. Barnhill and Benjamin are alternates, Martin said. Two recent graduates from the police academy will be assigned next year.

Perkins told the audience at the Carl Morgan Convention Center that before the City of Selma could go out and link those in need to programs and services, the city had some work to do itself.

“We asked ourselves, ‘What do we have to do to build trust?’ We went out and identified over 2,000 code violations the city itself needed to correct. Department heads took it on and did the work. Then, we decided it was best that we meet the people, and teach the people where they are.”

The obstacle, which he said exists at every level of government, was lack of trust.

“It’s hard to help people who don’t trust you,” Perkins said. “The whole idea is to share information and to build trust.”

The purpose of having police officers involved is so the citizens can get to know the police who work in their communities. City officials said they hope their presence will be a deterrent to crime.

A major component of TRUSTBuild is education. Perkins said the city was punishing citizens with fines for violating codes and ordinances, and the city needed to take another approach after it became apparent most residents didn’t know the local laws.

“We realized we couldn’t just keep punishing people,” Perkins said. “We were creating distress and stress within the community. We realized the code violations were due to people not knowing.”