Building a more tightly-knit community

Opinion: Columns

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Blanche Lukes has been creating community her entire life. It started when she was growing up on the close-knit 1500 block of Marengo. It continued at Sokol Tabor in Berwyn, where Blanche trained to become a world-class gymnast. She met her husband, Jerry Lukes, at Sokol Tabor and they moved to Phoenix in 1970.

In Phoenix, Blanche continued to create community, while working as a Realtor. They bought a home in a fledgling community called Moon Valley. It had very few houses until a developer built 1,650 model homes surrounding a golf course. Blanche embraced her new community and became involved with Cub Scouts.

She volunteered for other community organizations and founded the Moon Valley Block Watch, which works with community action officers to keep the neighborhood safe. She recruited block captains to act as liaisons with the police. Each captain oversees 20 homes and they encourage residents to contact their assigned officer if they have a problem.

Besides safety, there is a social aspect to the organization. Every Christmas, a committee distributes luminarias to the Moon Valley residents. For a $25 fee, homeowners receive bags and candles from their block captains. They light the luminarias on Christmas Eve and hordes of visitors drive through Moon Valley with their headlights off to enjoy the display.

Block captains also host an annual pot luck dinner, where residents can meet the police officers assigned to their district. Blanche believes it is key for residents to connect with the local police on a personal level. In her opinion, we all have a lot of work to do to repair the relationship between police and the people they've sworn to protect.

To keep residents informed about local events, Blanche pens a column for the "Moon Valley Tattler." For 15 years, she has dispensed her folksy wisdom in her "Block Watcher" column. She keeps residents informed about the workings of the neighborhood homeowners association and gives seniors tips on safety. She used her column to announce formation of her Good Deed Fellowship.

Blanche had 1,000 cards printed with the Good Deed message. She also purchased "five golden rings" to distribute to each resident. "Welcome to a Secret Society of special people," the card reads, "You have been given a small gold ring as a reminder. Your charge is: do something special each day. A prayer for someone or something, pick up a piece of trash, hold a door open for someone, initiate a smile, a thank-you and/or compliment, be helpful without being asked."

Her goal is to distribute these cards and rings in all 50 states. I'm proud to say I'm the first recipient in Illinois. Blanche sees Forest Park as fertile ground for building community. We could start by getting to know the neighbors on our block. Perhaps someone would step up to serve as block captain. This person could organize an annual get-together, like a block party.

Block captains could also connect with the Forest Park Police Department. Chief Aftanas is open to working with a community organization like this and assigning beat patrol officers to designated areas. Actual get-togethers with residents, though, will have to wait until socializing is safe again.

Starting a program like this would require us to be like Blanche. We would need the courage to reach out to strangers. We could become block captains, or recruit others to serve as captains.

Not to put anyone on the spot, but she suggested we start on her old stomping grounds, the 1500 block of Marengo. Maybe someone there is as dedicated to building community as Blanche Lukes.

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